SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Tiny oysters already growing at OceansAlaska


July 23, 2012

(SitNews) -  The OceansAlaska Marine Science Center has barely opened its doors and tiny oysters are already growing out at the new floating facility at George Inlet in Ketchikan. The 28 acre site was granted to the non-profit by the state and Ketchikan borough in 2006.

The Center houses the first home grown source of oyster ‘seed’ for Alaska growers, and aims to be the go to place for mariculture research and training.  There are 29 shellfish farms producing in Alaska so far in Southcentral and Southeast regions. The main crop is oysters, with sales valued at about a half million dollars last year. (No shellfish farm applicants have ever come from Westward regions of Alaska, said Cynthia Pring-Ham, state mariculture coordinator.) 

OceansAlaska Marine Science Center: Ketchikan, Alaska
Photo Courtesy OceansAlaska

“I could sell all the oysters I could possibly produce and could double sales tomorrow with just a couple of phone calls, especially in New York. There is a lack of production throughout the country,” said Tom Henderson, Oceans Alaska mariculture director, and a long time oyster farmer near Kake.

Henderson said the Center will begin working on geoduck mariculture projects and ‘then get into other things, among them seaweeds.’

Seaweed is the second largest aquaculture industry in the world, second only to fresh water fish.  Kelp is a multibillion dollar industry in Japan, and Henderson wants to work with the  traditional, local black seaweed which he said  tastes better than the Japanese nori, popular in sushi rolls

Economists believe expanding mariculture just in Southeast Alaska could easily increase the industry’s revenues over time from the current $7 million to more than $100 million a year.

Australia produces 80 million oysters a year worth $40 million; New Zealand’s  government -funded  mussel  industry went from $15 million to over $100 million in 20 years, and scallop farming at Prince Rupert and Prince Edward Islands in Canada is a $60 million industry.    

Catching small crabs

Alaska’s most far flung fishing fleet plans to catch lots of ‘small crab for a cause’ when the golden king crab season gets underway next month.  Golden kings are caught in deep waters along the 1,200 miles of the Aleutian Chain, a part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” and the westernmost region of the United States.

Goldens are Alaska’s most stable king crab stock, with a harvest this season of 6.2 million pounds.  The remoteness of their home turf, however, prevents managers from surveying the stocks as often as they’d like.

To safeguard the fishery, the fleet of five to six boats voluntarily uses gear with larger mesh than required by law to make sure all small crabs can escape. And therein lies the problem.   

“By designing their gear to avoid juvenile crab during the commercial fishery, the information you get indicates there are no small crabs down there, “said Denby Lloyd, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Science Foundation, a harvester group.  “To assess whether the population is in a productive cycle or not, you have to use a different method, such as the one in this project,”

To help solve the riddle, the fleet will use 20 test pots made with small mesh to capture the juvenile crabs.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientists will a collect the data and return them to the sea.

“The fleet has a very stable fishery and they want to make sure it remains that way, as well as grow the harvest opportunity,” Lloyd said in a phone interview. “By using the commercial fleet directly it minimizes costs for the state and federal government and everyone benefits from the data.”

Tracking golden king crab is tricky, no matter how it’s done.  The crabs are down 1,800 feet or more and live amid steep underwater mountains. To prevent crab pots from tumbling down cliffs and getting lost, the fleet attaches them to longlines, 

“Rather than fishing one pot per buoy like other crab fisheries in the Bering Sea,  the Aleutian  fleet attaches  20-30  pots to a  to a line that can be retrieved,” Lloyd said  

A $25,000 grant from the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation paid for the test crab pots.   The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery begins August 15 and can run through February.

LAPP lapse

IFQ holders will have a tougher time with any appeals issues and it will all be dealt with long distance.  The laws that govern fishing limited access privilege programs (LAPPs) include an appeals process for fishermen who are eligible to receive shares of the fish.  LAPPs are basically limited entry programs such as Individual Fishing Quotas (catch shares) for halibut and sablefish and Bering Sea crab.

“It’s nothing new to Alaska. It’s been happening for over 30 years with the Alaska limited entry commission,” said Phil Smith, a retired limited access manager at NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Among other things, Smith devised the appeals process for IFQ programs that began in Alaska in 1995.

“That was a massive program with 8,000 applicants and built into the system was an administrative appeals process to make the determination if people were not eligible for any IFQ, or for as much as they wanted.   There was a formal opportunity for people to appeal in the Juneau office at NMFS where they were treated fairly and got full due process. We handled hundreds of such appeals, some frivolous, some with merit,” Smith said.

But the IFQ appeals process has changed. Two years ago the Alaska office was ‘centralized’ and moved to federal headquarters in Maryland.  At the same time, the new National Appeals Office devised a new list of regulations to govern the process.  Smith called the new rules “punitive and non-user friendly” and said “it puts total control into the hands of a far away adjudicator.”

Public comment on the appeals process ended June 9 and it may or may not make it to the law books. Smith said his advice is to pay attention. 

“I know the halibut charter catch share plan is coming down the pike.. That is going to bring rise to certain entitlements and appeals - there always are with these things - and I would think that all of us in Alaska want our fishermen to be treated as fairly as possible.” 


This year marks the 21st year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. 


Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]
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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska


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