Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...


Fish Factor

Clock is ticking on ban on mixing zones in fish spawning streams
By Laine Welch


August 13, 2005

Alaskans will soon know if the state intends to lift its ban on mixing zones in fish spawning streams.  
jpg Laine Welch

Mixing zones are stretches of natural water bodies used as industrial flushing tanks for mines, power companies, and sewage treatment plants. Last year saw a big push by policy makers to modify the state law and lift a long time ban on mixing zones in lakes, rivers and streams. The Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was scheduled to announce its decision last November - but since then there has not been a peep or a leak about the outcome.

The clock is ticking, however. DEC spokesperson Nancy Sonafrank said state "staleness" laws dictate that a decision on any proposed law changes must be made by one year of the last public notice. For DEC and mixing zones, that date is September 1. If that deadline is not met, the entire process must begin all over again, she said.

The long delay stems in part from the controversy surrounding the measure. DEC has reviewed more than 600 public comments, mostly opposed to mixing zones. Critics call it a roll back of clean water standards in the name of big business, and say it will tarnish the pure image of Alaska's wild salmon. DEC counters with claims that mixing zone wastes don't necessarily affect aquatic life, and that the state will not authorize a mixing zone if it jeopardizes fish.

Sonafrank said the issue also was raised to "a higher decision level" than normal, meaning that along with DEC, the decision must be signed off by the departments of Fish and Game and Natural Resources. The DEC has spent most of the past year pushing for wastewater permitting primacy, meaning the state will be able to write its own permits, instead of the Environmental Protection Agency. "It's a big deal. Alaska is one of only four states that does not have such authority," she said.

Sonafrank said she expects that DEC Commissioner Kurt Fredriksson to announce the state's decision on mixing zones in the next few weeks, adding: "There will be a lot to talk about."


Millions of cans of Alaska pink salmon are now going on sale throughout Korea. The Lotte Corp., one of Korea's largest department store chains, purchased three million cans of pinks this summer from Bear and Wolf Processors in Cordova. It's only the second time canned pinks have been introduced to Korea, and never this much, said Sun Kim, project director with the state Dept. of Commerce.

Kim said she took advance measures to make sure the pinks would be a big success. For the past year, she has used colorful ASMI promotions in Korean newspapers, magazines and TV. "The ads show and tell people how the salmon is caught and processed, and why it is better than farmed fish," she said.

Kim added that along with its low cost, the health benefits of wild salmon are not lost on Asian buyers. "People are realizing that good health is the most important thing in their life, so 'well being' is a big buzz word right now, and that helps," she said. Kim predicts it won't be long before canned salmon takes a bit bite out of the canned tuna market in Korea. "People use that everywherefor babies' rice dishesin kimchee soup. It's a huge market," she said.

Asian buyers have also expressed interest in halibut and other Alaska whitefish, but Kim said suppliers have been slow to respond. After making many inquiries, she found out that most are trying to accommodate their old customers, so they are not paying attention to new customers. "I don't think that's the right way to go about it. They need to create new customers to make them compete with prices. So I hope the suppliers will respond to the newcomers and take care of them instead of ignoring them," she said. For example, Kim organized an Anchorage conference this summer that attracted more than 40 seafood buyers and hotel chefs from Korea and China wanting to make contacts with Alaska suppliers. "Only one showed up - Ocean Beauty. And they got all the business," Kim said.


Monday marks the end of Southeast Alaska's biggest crab fishery - Dungeness crab. In two months a fleet of 180 boats has delivered close to three million pounds of Dungies; another 600,000 pounds will be pulled up during the fall when the fishery reopens on October 1. That haul is slightly below past fisheries, which have topped four million pounds. Southeast Alaska's best dungie showing was in 2002/03 when the catch came in at more than 7 million crabs, an all time record. Crabbers were averaging $1.20 a pound, down from last year's average price of $1.35.

Southeast shellfish project leader Gretchen Bishop said biologists are busy making decisions about whether or not there will be an opener for red king crab in November. An announcement will be made in early September. Results of an independent assessment of the ADF&G survey methods for red king crab will be available later this summer, Bishop said.


When the community of Metlakatla near Ketchikan needed a way to boost its economy, it turned to shellfish farms. Armed with a small grant obtained by Senator Ted Stevens just two years, Metlakatla quickly partnered with Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent Ray ReLonde. They bought clam seed and planted it at various beaches around Annette Island to see how they'd do. "We planted inter-tidal geoducks, littleneck clams and cockles. We also put out suspended oyster culture units in a couple of bays. One has a quarter million oysters growing there now," said ReLonde, estimating the value at $250,000.

Just 18 months later, they are ready to eat. Members of the Metlakatla Indian Reservation decided to donate the first batch of bivalves to Sen. Ted at a special feed in Fairbanks to thank him for his help in getting the venture started.

ReLonde said the community is especially excited about the potential for farming giant geoduck clams. "It's the first time it's been tried in Alaska," he said, adding that they appear to be growing about 20 percent slower than those farmed at Puget Sound.

ReLonde said Metlakatla has done "a marvelous job" with its aquaculture project, and he predicts the industry will soon be ready for mainstream marketing. Aquaculture has gotten strong support from the state in recent years and there are now 60 farms licensed to operate. Annual output of primarily oysters is valued at about $1 million. ReLonde said shellfish (or sea plant) farming pays other important dividends. "I can't over emphasize that most of the income stays in the communities. It is a local, resource based industry that provides year round employment. So it adds another dimension to the local economy."


Doug Mecum, Director of the Commercial Fisheries Division has accepted a position as the Alaska Deputy Director with National Marine Fisheries Service. His last day of work will be August 31, 2005. Doug will be missed, but we look forward to working with him in his new position.

Geron Bruce will be the acting director during the recruitment period.

Open recruitment for the Commercial Fisheries director position will begin next week.


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.

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska