SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

First solar powered samon fishery soon to go into operation
By Laine Welch


March 12, 2007
Monday AM

The first ever solar powered salmon fishery will be operating this summer at Lummi Island, home to the world's only remaining reefnet fishery. It's located at the northeast tip of the San Juan archipelago in Washington, near Bellingham.

Reefnetting is perhaps the oldest form of net fishing in the world. Called "the original and still the best in selective fishing" by the WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, it was done centuries ago by Native Americans using cedar canoes and cedar nets. Although the boats are bigger now and winches are used to pull the nets, there isn't much difference in the fishing method to this day.

Instead of chasing the fish with motorized boats, reefnet fishermen create an elaborate array of lines and ribbons that form a funnel shaped reef. As the fish swim along, they are forced upwards and over into a large net suspended between two anchored barges.

"We stand on towers on each barge and watch for the fish. When a school comes over the net, we lift it up with electric winches and spill the fish into a live well filled with slush ice," explained Riley Starks of the Lummi Island Wild Coop.

The winches are powered by banks of six volt batteries, which must be ferried to shore for recharging. "For years we've talked about ways of rigging something up so we wouldn't have to bring thousands of pounds of batteries in every night," Starks said. The fishermen believe the sun will provide the solution.

The coop has partnered with Bellingham-based Alpha Energy to power the salmon fishery with solar panels. This spring Alpha Energy will donate and install the panels on three of the 11 barge/net operations (called "gears") that comprise the reefnet fleet. Starks estimated the panels cost $10,000 per gear, and said the coop will expand solar energy to the entire fishery.

"This is a perfect example of how solar power can save time, labor and money for a fishery or any business in a remote location," said Matt Donnelly, Vice President of Alpha Energy. "These reefnet boats are in the water for months at a time and require constant power to operate. As long as the sun rises in the morning, they will have environmentally-friendly power."

The Lummi Island fish will use 'solar salmon' tail tags as a marketing angle when the fishery gets underway in late July. "If we can get it into the mind of consumers that they're doing something good by purchasing this fish - every little advantage helps," Starks said.

He added that overall, the concept means far more than money. "Solar technology could be used in lots of different salmon fisheries. Where the opportunity exists, it should be done to try and make our footprint on this earth as small as possible." ( )

Halibut 'hookie'

The way that halibut behave around baited circle hooks tells fish scientists a lot about the stocks.

"Our belief is that is fish over about 20 pounds bite a circle hook, they're hooked. Most of the fish under 10 pounds that bite the hook don't get hooked, and there is a pretty direct progression as size gets bigger of fish being caught," said Steve Kaimmer, a biologist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

This summer Kaimmer will observe how well the "hooking success" of halibut meshes with their computer models. "We count the number of fish in each size group caught in the commercial fishery and our surveys, and estimate how many halibut are out there on the sea floor. We want to recreate with a good number of observations the hooking success on circle hooks that is being predicted by our stock assessment model," he said.

Kaimmer uses an "acoustic camera" that provides underwater sonogram images at any depths. His earlier observations revealed that halibut almost always come up current when they're following a scent trail to baited gear.

"A lot of times they would overshoot the baited hook, and then loop back around. At that time, I think they're using vision because they've lost the scent. They often won't take a bait right off the bat, but will sit 5-10 inches down current and just smell it for awhile. When it decides to take it, it gives a kick of its tail and grabs it on the run, so to speak. It's very amusing," he said.

The IPHC is seeking a boat for the halibut research charter this summer.

"What's different about this charter is that we don't need a longline vessel. We need a boat with a drum, a boom to swing the gear over the side and .a nice back deck. It's an opportunity for people who might not think about halibut research to get involved in our program," Kaimmer said.

The two week project can occur anytime from June through August, and pays roughly $2,000 per day. Deadline for bids is March 21st.

Seafood and selenium

Compared to other foods, seafood has some of the highest levels of an important mineral called selenium. (Only Brazil nuts have more.) Selenium is essential to good health, and the best source comes from ocean fishes - both oily ones, like salmon or tuna, and whitefish like cod and pollock.

Selenium is a key to producing antioxidants that help prevent cell damage in all living organisms. Major studies show that higher selenium levels are associated with substantially reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, which stems from plaque build up that destroys brain cells. That was the conclusion of a nine year study in France, and more recently, in a study of 2,000 elderly Chinese by researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than 4.5 million Americans. Health experts predict the number of cases could reach 16 million by 2050. The cost of caring for Alzheimer patients in the U.S. now tops $100 billion a year.

On another front - selenium is being called a built-in safeguard against mercury in seafood. Research by Dr. Nicholas Ralston at the Univ. of North Dakota found that selenium binds to the methyl mercury in seafood and renders it harmless. Ralston said that may explain why a large study in the Seychelles Islands, where children eat 12 times more fish than Americans, found no developmental deficits associated with mercury intake. Ralston's studies found that the most popular fish eaten by Americans - including grouper, pollock, tuna, salmon, and flounder - all contained much more selenium than mercury.


On the Web:

"'Seafood Mineral' Selenium May Reduce Risk of Senility,0,w

Mercury-Fighting Mineral in Fish Overlooked

Vital Choice


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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