By LAINE WELCH
August 16, 2010
In my 23 years of covering
news about Alaska's seafood industry, I had many interviews and
conversations with Ted Stevens, both on and off the record. He
always made time to talk and explain his views, he always called
back. He loved talking about Alaska's fisheries.
At a Congressional field hearing in Kodiak in the late 1980s, on proposed updates to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the body of laws that govern conservation and management of our nation's fisheries - Senator Stevens pounded the table in a rage over big trawl vessels displacing small fleets from nearshore pollock fishing, and their high rates of bycatch.
"If this was occurring with our game resources, these people would be thrown in jail. This is wanton waste and it is going to stopped in short order," Stevens railed.
Not long after, big pollock trawlers were booted from the Gulf, they were required to carry observers to monitor their catches, and pollock quotas were strictly apportioned between at-sea and shorebased sectors.
As keynote speaker at a statewide Salmon Summit in Kodiak in the early 1990s: "Long after the last drop of oil is removed from our lands, our fisheries will sustain us."
When asked about the proposed Pebble Mine at a 2008 campaign stop in Kodiak: "I am not opposed to mining, but it is the wrong mine for the wrong place."
Of his countless fisheries endeavors, Senator Stevens seemed most proud of the role Alaska played in championing a 200 mile limit to boot foreign fishing fleets out of U.S. waters.
"In 1970 I took a flight over the Pribilofs and counted more than 90 foreign fishing vessels anchored up with catcher boats servicing them. It was quite a sight, and I knew something had to be done about it," he recalled.
In 1976, the law was passed extending U.S. jurisdiction to 200 miles from shore.
"There is no question that Alaska commercial fishermen drove that bill," Stevens said last year at a Kodiak fisheries event. "There is not a country in the world today that doesn't claim the 200 mile limit, and Alaska helped bring that about. We did it not for the fishermen, but for the reproductive capability of the fisheries that we wanted to succeed."
Ted Stevens was passionate about protecting fish resources, and each year pushed federal funding through Congress for marine research and stock assessments, notably for Bering Sea crab fisheries. His protective interests extended to the Arctic and far beyond. For years before leaving the Senate, Stevens championed laws to stop fish piracy on the high seas.
"These vessels the size of battleships fish illegally and deliver it in various places around the world. We will tighten laws so they can't dump it in the U.S., and if they bring those vessels into our waters, we will seize them and fine them and put them in jail for up to five years, and put their vessels up for auction," Stevens said.
In 2009, the U.S. and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization brokered a treaty between 92 nations that would close ports to vessels suspected of Illegal, Under-reported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
One of my favorite stories occurred last April when Ted Stevens came to a Kodiak celebration to accept a Lifetime Achievement award from the United Fishermen of Alaska. It highlighted another of his passions - flying - as he recounted a visit to the Pribilof Islands in 1970. It was Russian Christmas and there were a bunch of presents to be delivered, but no boats could get to St. Paul.
"I told them to put the presents on the plane (an albatross), but they told me there was no airport to land there," Stevens reminisced. "I said, hell, I landed C47s on roads in China, and you can land this thing on a road over there. The co-pilot refused to fly and I said I have a license. We went over and landed the first plane ever on St. Paul."
"That trip changed my life," Ted Stevens added, "because I realized that if you are interested in something and you really want to try and devote your time to it, you can really build relationships and attain goals that you originally thought were impossible."
Go for the gold
The golden king crab fishery begins on August 15th signaling the start of fall crab seasons in the Bering Sea.
Only five or six boats go after golden kings in waters off the Aleutian Islands. The deep water crabs are one of Alaska's most stable fisheries, yielding about six million pounds each year for the past decade. Golden king crabs are slightly smaller than their more famous red cousins and they fetch a lower price. Last year goldens averaged $1.96 per pound, making the fishery worth about $11 million at the docks. Prices should be higher this season. Market watcher Ken Talley said prices for golden crab in inventory are increasing as availability of red king crab dwindles. Larger crab sections are on the street at $10 a pound right now, up from $8.95 last year; smaller sizes are fetching $9.45 a pound, an increase of $8.15.
Alaska's conservative fisheries management is a main reason the golden crab stocks have held steady. That includes built in protections in all crab pots since the 1970s.
All commercial and subsistence and personal use crab pots need to have a biodegradable mechanism that degrades in salt water over time to allow crabs and other animals to escape, if the pot is accidentally lost or it's just left unattended for a length of time," said Wayne Donaldson, regional shellfish manager at ADF&G in Kodiak.
Alaska pots also use much less twine - and include escape mesh and rings.
"Those function at all times - it's intended to let out the small female crabs which cannot legally be landed. So even when the pot is actively fishing, we're promoting escapement of crab," he explained.
Bering Sea crabbers will know next month their catch quotas for red king crab and snow crab. Those fisheries get underway in mid-October.
Big booms or busts are what usually make the fishing headlines in Alaska, but there are lots of good fish stories in between. At Norton Sound, for example, fishermen are seeing the best chum salmon run in 25 years. At Kotzebue, the chum catches are tracking the best in 15 years. Upper Cook Inlet fishermen hauled in a huge 2.7 million sockeye harvest, 800,000 more than projected.
Those hard to predict pink salmon are making good appearances throughout Southeast Alaska; Seymour Canal near Juneau had its first pink opener in over 20 years. Prince William Sound fishermen are setting some harvest records for pinks, and returns to hatcheries are double the forecast. And get this: fishing for pink salmon is hot on the Nushagak at Bristol Bay! About 60 boats and 30-40 setnetters were targeting humpies and pulled in over one million fish, along with 60,000 cohos. Bay fish managers said there has not been a directed pink and coho salmon fishery for so long, there aren't even numbers to compare the catches to.
The statewide, all species salmon harvest this year is pegged at 138 million salmon, 15 percent fewer fish than in 2009.