SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Ticked off; Nasty weather, nice price; Go for Local-vores; & Gut fish


May 18, 2010

Trollers are ticked off that the arrival of fish to Copper River always makes headlines claiming "it's the start of Alaska's salmon fishery" and "the first fresh fish of the season."

They have a point. Trollers throughout Southeast Alaska have been delivering fresh Chinook salmon all winter, and they rolled right into their spring season on May 1.

"We have been delivering thousands of pounds of the most beautiful kings since January, and getting close to $8 a pound. For all these media reports to call Copper River the start of Alaska's salmon season is an insult to hundreds of hard working Southeast trollers," said Sitka high-liner Eric Jordan in an irate but friendly phone call.

He's got a point. Throughout the year roughly 250,000 Chinook salmon are caught by Southeast Alaska fishermen; the region's trollers especially are famous for their utmost attention to fish quality. That harvest dwarfs the number of kings that are taken by the driftnet fleet at Copper River - a catch of just 17,000 is projected there this year.

It's the arrival of the first sockeye salmon that spawns most of the hype for the Copper River fish. And let's face it ­ the region has been masterful at building a brand that celebrates and creates awareness of wild Alaska salmon. Regardless of where or when you fish in Alaska, every fishing region benefits from that.

Nasty weather, nice price

High winds and a holy day kept many boats away from opening day at Copper River.

"The weather's been bad and it's supposed to kick up to 40 knots this afternoon," said Hap Symmonds at Ocean Beauty Seafoods in Cordova.

The May 13 opener coincided with the Ascension of the Lord Holiday for the Russian Old Believers.

"That is the second largest Russian holiday next to Easter, so there was no participation by that portion of the fleet," Symmonds said, adding that the Old Believers make up 28% of the region's salmon fleet.

The so-so catches of 924 Chinook and 6,389 sockeye fetched a nice price: $4/lb for sockeyes and $6/lb for kings; an increase of $.50 and $.75 over starting prices last year. Seafood reported that first servings of the famous Copper River fish are being promoted at $43.95 per meal in New York City. The next opener is set for May 17.

The savvy Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association again partnered with Alaska airlines to promote its delivery of the first fish to SeaTac, and took things a step further by hosting a celebrity chef cook-off at the airport. The Alaskan Brewing Co. also is offering $5-off coupons for Copper River salmon with each case of ABC beer sold in the Pacific Northwest.

Go for Local-vores

Fish feed made from Sitka herring trumped anchovies from Peru in fish feeding trials, and Sitkans believe it has the makings of a $6 million new local business.

"What is produced here should be consumed here, and that applies to the fish and game food web as well. So the notion of making food from local herring and feeding it to Alaska hatchery salmon really fits," said John Stein, director of the Sitka Sound Science Center. "We're creating local-vores."

Alaska spends $20 million on fish feed each year for its 33 salmon hatcheries, buying it primarily from South America. The SSSC and local stakeholders aim to prove that feeds made from local fish are every bit as tasty and nutritious as the foreign stuff.

"It's something that has been looked at for 30 years, and we still haven't figured out how to compete with the big producers," Stein said.

In the Sitka "drag race" feeding project, herring feed from local fish was pitted against the Peruvian anchovy pellets used by Alaska hatcheries. After10 weeks, coho salmon fed on the herring diet "were slightly above those eating the standard feeds," Stein said.

More feeding trials are needed before hatchery managers will be convinced to try something new on their $200 million dollar fish crops, Stein said, but he is convinced that local fish meals and oils means big business for Sitka.

"Using Alaskan produced hatchery feed would bring savings on two fronts; less shipping costs and higher growth rates. Plus, more jobs, more taxes collected, it is industry supported, and a big green star," said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which funded the Sitka project.

Sitka's three seafood companies also are motivated by tightening regulations.

"Our fish plants along the channel are facing issues about the disposal of ground up fish wastes. The two in town are disposing fish in the vicinity of the Sitka airport, which has drawn the attention of the FAA because of the disproportionate number of bird encounters with aircraft," Stein said.

"So there are a lot of concerns in Sitka that are pushing towards using byproducts rather than just putting them back into the ocean."

The "local-vore" fish feed project idea has caught on with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and, with support from local processors and the community, a fish meal factory could be breaking ground in Sitka next year.

Gut Fish?

Alaska's world class fisheries produce a lot of leftovers in the form of heads, guts, skin, bones and other trimmings, called byproducts or co-products. Each year, 1.25 million metric tons of these "industrial wastes" are produced by fish processing operations across Alaska. In A 2008 report titled Alaska Seafood Byproducts: Potential Products, Markets and Competing Products by Anthony Bimbo, he calls the potential value of Alaska fish meals and oils a real eye opener. "Assuming a 5 year average price for meal and oil from 2000 ­ 2007, Alaska could have produced somewhere between $80 million and $170 million of fishmeal and $7 - $22 million of fish oil."

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This weekly column focusing on Alaska's seafood industry began in 1991, and it now appears in over 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. Happy New Year and thanks for your continued support of fishing news!

Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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