SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

New program seeks help from Alaskans


March 16, 2009

Alaskans are being asked to help shape a new program aimed at tracking the economic importance of deckhands to the fishing industry.

Best 'guess-timates' peg the number of Alaska deckhands at 20,000. As self-employed workers, no wage reports are collected by the state, and crews have fallen through the cracks when it comes to labor data showing their financial contributions to coastal communities. Each must buy a fishing license, but it doesn't tell if or when they fish, in what fisheries, or for how long. The data is important for several reasons, said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the state commercial fisheries division.

"First, you can't really estimate the total economic impact of commercial fishing unless you know something about the earnings and employment patterns for the crew members who are such an important part of the work force. And we don't have any of that information."
The lack of data also means the "boots on deck" have been on the losing end of new management plans that dole out shares of the catch.

Lawmakers last year ok'd a one-time appropriation of $150,000 for commfish staff to jump start a crew labor data project. Bruce also credited the feds for funding that is keeping the project afloat.

"This is a cooperative project that would not be moving forward if we did not have the federal government as a partner in providing funding," he said.

State and federal agency reps met in January and developed five options to be presented to an industry advisory panel that is now being formed.

"The biggest challenge is how to collect the data," Bruce said. "Do you collect it at the time of landing? If so, how do you collect it? Does the crewmember report it or the skipperdo you put it on a fish ticket or have a separate system to enter the information? Those are examples of some of the options."

Another challenge is gathering 10 to 15 industry advisors who can represent fisheries in all Alaska regions, from small skiffs to large at sea processors.

"We're interested in permit holders, boat owners, crewmembers, processors and communities," Bruce said. "We're going to be most interested in people who are representing groups of people or organized interests so that the input they provide will reflect a larger perspective. And in turn, they will be able to disseminate information to their group and continue to be a conduit for information."

"I am especially interested in CDQ groups as several of them have processing plants, offshore fishing vessels and also buy from local fishermen. So they can represent multiple interests," he added.

Bruce said there also is a need to expand awareness beyond Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands regions, where the push for the project began.

The first stakeholders meeting will take place in April and the preferred option for the data collection will be chosen by this winter.

Interested? Contact Geron Bruce at (907) 465-6151 (; or Jan Conitz at (907) 465-4125 ( .

Alaska seafood scores

The menu is still the most important factor affecting dining decisions when Americans go out to eat -- and 77% say the Alaska brand makes them more likely to select seafood.
That's according to a national study by the San Francisco-based Hale Group, a leading consulting firm specializing in food and agribusiness industries. The study, contracted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, reports on perceptions and preferences at fast food and casual dining chains. It includes consumer's top concerns with seafood, how often they eat it and what kinds they want to see on menus.

The study shows there is increased awareness of the impacts food choices have on the environment and on our health. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they care about the source of the seafood they choose, and that it is sustainable. Other findings: 59% said they eat seafood more often at restaurants than they did two years ago; 76% said they prefer wild, ocean caught seafood because it tastes better; only 10% prefer farm raised fish.

Eighty-one percent believe Alaska seafood comes from icy, clean waters; 84% said they would like more seafood choices at fast food restaurants; especially in salads. A "fried fish" sandwich attracted 32% of diners; add the term "Alaska pollock" on the menu and it jumped to 68%. Seventy-two percent prefer "Wild Alaska" over "organic" in describing salmon.

Find the complete results of the 'Menu Alaska' report at the ASMI website under food service ( <> ).

Fish fables

St. Patrick's Day on March 17 falls in the middle of Lent, a time of strict fasting and restraint for Irish and other Christians. But the old bans on boozing or eating meat don't apply on St. Paddy's Day. In fact, since the 11th century, meat has been eaten during Lent in honor of the patron saint. It's called "St. Patrick's Fish" ­ but it's really roast pork. Legend has it that Patrick had tucked away a piece of pork during Lent in case he couldn't resist the temptation, but he was soon filled with remorse. An angel appeared, telling him to throw the roast pork into the river, where ­ you guessed it ­ the meat was transformed into many fishes. Seventeen centuries later, St. Patrick's Fish is still eaten in Ireland on this day.

Friday the 13th has already occurred twice this year, and a life of danger and uncertainty has seafarers observing a strict set of rules steeped in myth and superstition on that day.
Many sea going beliefs are based on the Bible - for example, Friday is the worst day to set out to sea. Most sources credit that to the belief that Christ was crucified on a Friday.

Similarly, Sunday is the best day to begin a voyage, because Christ's resurrection on that day is seen as a good omen. Thus, the old adage: 'Sunday sail, never fail.'

A traditional view for centuries was that women had no place at sea. They weren't strong enough and would distract men from their duties, thereby angering the seas and dooming a ship. Lore has it, however, that a naked woman would calm the seas. That's why many vessels have a bare breasted figurehead of a woman on the bow.

For hundreds of years bananas have been regarded as bad luck ­ reasons stem from causing ships to disappear to spider bites. Pouring wine on the deck will bring good luck on a long voyage, as it's a libation to the gods. Dolphins swimming with a ship are a good omen, while sharks following is a sign of inevitable death. Black cats are considered lucky ­ not so flowers, which could be used for a funeral wreath. It's unlucky to kill an albatross or a gull at sea, as they host the souls of dead sailors. And whistling on the bridge will whistle up a storm. Cutting your hair or nails at sea is a no no. And don't ever step onto a boat with your left foot, or stir a pot or coil a line counter clockwise.

Finally, marine myth has it that sailors pierced their ears to improve their eyesight. A gold earring was both a charm against drowning, and the price paid to Davy Jones to enter the next world if a sailor died at sea.


This fishing column began in 1991 at the request of the Anchorage Daily News and now appears weekly in 20 newspapers and web sites. A spin off - Fish Radio - airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic and social importance of Alaska's fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. Thanks for your continued interest in Alaska's most fascinating industry!


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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