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Fish Factor

Video cameras new addition to monitoring catches
By Laine Welch


July 29, 2005

Video cameras are a new addition to Kodiak's trawl fleet. It is one part of an experiment to see how well the cameras can monitor their catches, and perhaps help relieve some of the high costs the fishermen must pay for observer coverage.  
jpg Laine Welch

Trawl boats over 60 feet are required by law to carry onboard observers who record catches of groundfish, such as pollock, cod, rockfish and flounders. They also track accidental takes of fish like halibut that trawlers are not allowed to catch. Observers do their best, but their coverage can often be sketchy. And the cost for observers in the Gulf fisheries can top $700 a day.

Twenty three boats volunteered for the video scrutiny, but only enough cameras were available for ten. The vessels are rigged with multiple video cameras - one focuses on the entire catch as it comes aboard, two others watch the discard chutes to see what fish is discarded.  The cameras can run 'round the clock, and all data is locked up in a special security system.  Two companies are contracted to do the videos - Kodiak-based Digital Observers, and Archipelago Marine Unlimited of Canada, which has the most experience in the world deploying and developing electronic monitoring, according to Al Burch, director of the Alaska Draggers Assn.

"If we can use the videos to assure that nothing is being thrown overboard, then all the catch accounting can be done by observers at the plant after the boat delivers," said Julie Bonney, director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank. 

Good catch accounting is even more critical as managers move towards dividing up portions of many species among  fishermen and harvest cooperatives. Kodiak's groundfish industry will be the first to cut its teeth on such a quota share plan with a pilot rockfish program starting in 2007.

"All of a sudden we find ourselves in a very different position where we are no longer estimating catches on a broad, fleet wide level. Now we are trying to set up a program that allows us to account very accurately for the separate quotas that are caught," said Alan Kinsolving, program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

Bonney said the use of videos will help develop two key components for a quota based fishing system.  "One is monitoring mechanisms that are economical, yet meet the catch accounting needs. The other is bycatch management where the fleet and processors work cooperatively to do real time reporting, so boats can adjust and move if they run into bycatch problems," she explained.

The use of videos could also fill  "black holes" in catch accounting by smaller boats. For example, no observers are required on trawlers under 60 feet, although they comprise 92 percent of the Gulf fleet and take nearly 60 percent of the groundfish catch. Likewise, the longline halibut fishery has no requirement for observer coverage. "We know what's delivered, but we don't know what's going over the side.  If we all care about sustainable fisheries and good catch data, we all need to step up to the plate and get the information that's needed," Bonney said. 

Kinsolving said there never has been a project in the country that has included such broad participation from the fishing industry. "We have every processor and 23 out of 25 boats. So it's very representative and a great way to develop a program that meets the needs of both management and industry," he said. Al Burch added: "And we will continue it until we get where we need to go."
CRAB QUOTAS ISSUED ­ A total of 505 applicants were issued quota shares last week for one or more of the Bering Sea's eight crab fisheries. Twenty five of those were processing companies, the others were vessel owners, skippers and some crew members. "They got small amounts but it's better than in some other fisheries where the crew didn't receive anything," said Phil Smith, director of the Restricted Access Management Division of NOAA Fisheries. His shop is tasked with implementing the new "crab rationalization" program that Smith calls "the most complicated fishery management program the world has ever seen."

August 1 marks another milestone. "That is when all the people to whom quota was issued are required to submit applications for their annual permits. That is what actually tells them how many pounds of crab they may harvest," Smith explained.

The first fishery to operate under the new management system - Western Aleutian golden crab - will hit the water on August 15. Just six participants will share a total catch of 5.7 million pounds.

A glance at the breakdown of crab quota holders shows that most companies and individuals are not from Alaska. The lists are posted on the NOAA Fisheries Alaska region web page under BSAI Crab Rationalization at .
ALF IN UNALASKA - Lessons learned from the Selandang Ayu oil spill is the focus of the first Aleutian Life Forum next month in Unalaska. The 740 foot cargo vessel, carrying a hold full of soy beans and nearly half a million gallons of fuel, ran aground and broke apart there last December.

The forum has three themes: air (wildlife), land (communities) and sea, which will focus on fisheries. "We're bringing together people from all the response agencies to learn what their organizations did, and how they might work together better in the event of another spill.  It's sort of a look back to a better future," said Reid Brewer, a Marine Advisory Agent with the University of Alaska/Fairbanks Sea Grant Program.

Despite the distance and expense, Brewer said speakers from across Alaska and the nation jumped at the chance to come to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. "So much research is based out of here. It's such a great place for them to experience the culture of a fantastic,   rural Alaska community and share ideas with other researchers," he added. The ALF will occur August 17-19 followed by a community festival on the 20th. Get more details at or via email at .
FISHING PHOTOS WANTED ­ The call is out for dramatic fishing photos to dazzle attendees of the upcoming 135th annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society conference to be held in Anchorage. Founded in 1870, the AFS is the nation's oldest and largest group representing fisheries scientists. Its peer reviewed journals are regarded as the "gold standard" on biology and management publishing.

The September 11-15 gathering will bring more than 2000 attendees from all over North America and the world to Anchorage.  "It's a very big deal," said event co-organizer, Steve Grabacki of Graystar Pacific Seafood.  The conference will begin with a slide show of Alaska fishing photos. "We want to shock and awe them with pictures of fish, fishing, processingthe idea is to show them a whole mosaic of how big and diverse the Alaska seafood industry is," Grabacki said.

 No payments will be made, but photographers do merit some benefits. "They will help spread good news about Alaska's fishing industry, and they get onscreen credit," Grabacki said. He added that all photos must be very high resolution because they will be projected on a 30 foot screen. Send photos (or questions) via email to or contact Steve Grabacki at 907-272-5600.
 GUESS CANNED PACK, WIN CASH - How many one pound cans of pink salmon will be put up in Petersburg?  That's the question posed for the past 13 seasons in the annual Canned Salmon Classic.

Starting each year on July 1, two local canneries post their weekly totals on a big sign on Main Street. "It's kind of like a gas station sign where you flip the numbers to show the price of gas, but it represents millions of cans packed. We get a fork lift and every week, sometimes twice a week towards end of the season, we update the numbers in view of the public as they drive down the street," said Patrick Wilson of Icicle's Petersburg Fisheries.

Wilson said no one has ever guessed the exact amount. "The closest guess has been within 3,000 cans or so," he said.  "Some think the cannery people have the edge, but no one really has a clue. People check forecast numbers and look at past years, talk with fishermen, work up spread sheets. They really get into it."  

Participants record their guesses on tickets ($2 each), which are collected on the third Saturday in August and locked up in a safe. The winners are announced at a special event in early October - the Humpy 500, in which kids race down the street in decorated oil drums that represent cans of salmon. Cash prizes of $2,000 and $1,000 are awarded for the two closest guesses. The rest of ticket sales go to local scholarships.  Wilson said winners have come from as far away as Australia.  Petersburg's record pink pack topped 38 million cans in 1999.


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 25 stations around the state. Laine lives in Kodiak.

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