By Laine Welch
April 25, 2006
"It is a great testament to fishermen from Alaska and Washington and all they've promoted over the past 10 to 20 years, as well as to the scientists and fishery managers," said Bob Alverson, director of the Fishing Vessel Owners' Association (FVOA) who announced the news on Friday. Alaska will get the biggest boost from the green label, with its catch this year of 53 million pounds of halibut. Washington, California and Oregon have a combined harvest of just 1.38 million pounds.
The FVOA sponsored the MSC certification attempt starting in February 2003. That began a lengthy process of intense scrutiny of the halibut fishery by a group of independent evaluators, Scientific Certification Systems of California. Fishermen financed most of the effort by taxing themselves $1,700 per season. The funds were matched by a donation from the Resource Legacy Fund, for a total cost of more than $150,000.
Alverson said he has long believed that U.S. consumers would follow the lead of Europeans, and throw their support behind earth friendly fisheries. "Some of the guys rolled their eyes, but you can see it gaining momentum especially in large population centers on the west coast, the eastern seaboard and Chicago. People are concerned about the environment and how things are managed and they want to participate," Alverson said in a phone interview from his Seattle office.
The halibut certification "couldn't come at a better time," said Matt Moir, manager of Alaska Pacific Seafoods in Kodiak. He referred to the announcement last month by Wal-Mart and other huge global companies that they will source seafood only from sustainable, well managed fisheries. "Most are using the MSC nod as the industry standard," Moir pointed out.
Processors must sign on and
pay for the privilege of using the MSC logo. Alverson said participants
so far include Norquest, Icicle, Bering Select, North Pacific
Seafoods and the Seafood Producers Co-op of Sitka. Whole Foods
will launch a national promotion using halibut provided by those
companies starting May 3. Meanwhile, buyers in the U.S. and
overseas continue to clamor for the fish despite high prices,
which have remained close to or well over $3.00 a pound at most
ports since the halibut fishery opened on March 5. The season
remains open through mid-November.
"We are really excited," said Bob Alverson, whose Fishing Vessel Owners' Association members also spearheaded and paid for the sablefish assessment. The FVOA has partnered with the Deep Sea Fishermen's Union to form a tax exempt corporation called Eat on the Wild Side to expand the sablefish market beyond Japan, where traditionally all of the fish has gone.
"We're hoping over the next few years we can transfer about 7-10 percent of the black cod consumption to North America, along with increased demand in China. We think that will really balance out the demand, instead of it just all going to Japan," Alverson said. The increased competition is already being reflected in higher prices to fishermen. Intrafish reported that interest from China has boosted sablefish prices to fishermen by 40 cents a pound to $4.30 (for fish weighing five pounds and up), and to $3.24 for four to five pound fish.
The total world catch of sablefish
averages only about 65 million pounds, most of which comes from
Alaska (34.5 million pounds this year). Anyone interested in
a DVD highlighting Alaska halibut and sablefish harvests can
contact Bob Alverson at (206) 284-4720 or via email at email@example.com.
The pilot project will use conical stacking pots that are about 4.5 feet wide at the base, 3.5 feet wide at the top and about 30 inches deep. "These are the pots used for black cod in the fishery off British Columbia," Kaimmer said. "And believe it or not, halibut can squeeze into places you wouldn't think they could. Fishermen say they can catch quite a few 40, 50 and 60 pound halibut in these pots." He added that the fish size in all regions of their range averages "in the low to mid-20 pounds."
The research team will also use an underwater sonar scanning device that will allow them to observe the approach and capture of halibut, and hopefully, the escape of rockfish. "Then we'll modify the pot tunnel and escape ring to see how we can bring up the minimum number of rockfish while still retaining the halibut," Kaimmer said.
He added that a string of 10 to 15 pots would be equivalent to a skate of hook and line gear in terms of fishing power. "I think I would rather handle a hundred hooks because the pots are so much heavier. I don't it is a gear someone would switch to unless it helped them get around a problem such as catching too many rockfish," Kaimmer said.
The halibut pot project will
begin on June 1 and last for about ten days. He added: "If
anyone has ideas on how to either catch halibut or exclude rockfish
in pots, I'll accept suggestions until the day we sail."
Contact Steve Kaimmer at the IPHC at (206) 634-1838.
The Washington Post reported that Chinese President Hu Jintao was served a meal of Alaskan halibut with mushroom essence during his recent visit to the White House.Bristol Bay's salmon rich Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers made the list of America's most endangered rivers, based on threats posed by the Pebble Mine project, one of the largest proposed open pit gold and copper mines in North America.
Long-time Japan market analyst
Bill Atkinson died on April 20 after suffering a massive stroke.
Condolences can be sent to Alaska Frontier Company, 133 4th Avenue
North, Edmonds, WA 98020.
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