SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Field testing new technology


August 27, 2011

Fish tags with iPhone technology are being used for the first time to track halibut migrations based on the earth’s magnetic field.  Cash rewards of $500 are being offered to get the tags back so scientists can see how well they work.

 “This year the technology that everyone has been talking about for a decade but hasn’t been able to miniaturize are tags that record magnetic field strength on three axes and have accelerometers and pitch and roll detectors. Those were the lynch pins– without being able to tell whether or not your tag is horizontal, you can’t really get the axis of the magnetism. The invention of the iPhone and its advancements made the pitch and roll detectors small enough to put in fish tags,” said Dr. Tim Loher, a biologist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission.     

 The IPHC oversees the health of the halibut stocks from California to British Columbia and the Bering Sea, and sets yearly catch limits for all fisheries. 

Loher said the iPhone has used “the rolling bead in the maze game” as an electronic component that  in real time is doing all the calculations  needed to horizontally calibrate a fish tag. 

“If you know the tag is horizontal you can get dip angle which is the angle at which the magnetism is entering the earth’s crust and that becomes steeper as you go to the poles.  That will hopefully give real time, daily positions on the fish and track them without any need for light, acoustics or communication with GPS satellites. All the information will be just be onboard when the fishermen catch them,” he explained.

To field test the new technology this summer, 30 halibut were double tagged both inside and out and released in the Central Gulf and Southeast Alaska regions.

“Almost all of the external tags either fall off or they will grow giant balls of fouling organisms and barnacles and mussels that eventually either kill the fish or screw up what the fish is doing. So what seems to work best is surgical implantation,” Loher said.

The implanted geomagnetic tags have memory and battery life that records data every 30 seconds for seven years, meaning they could provide migration data from fish ‘adolescence’ into their breeding years.   

If the geomagnetic field test works out, IPHC scientists aim to tag nearly 2,000 halibut  from Oregon to Attu and out to the US/ Russian border.  The goal is to build a better migration model to assist with fishery management.

“We’ve got a lot of migration issues and we are trying to set our quotas and determine exactly how to assess the stock,” Loher said. “We know the fish are moving inshore to feed in the summer and offshore to spawn in the winter, but we are having trouble getting refined estimates of movement by size, age and regulatory area.   Hopefully, this will help nail that down.”

See tagged fish photos and get more info at .

Future seafood processors

There is lots of talk about the ‘graying of the fishing fleet’ and the same applies to seafood processing.

“One of the big issues in the seafood industry is where   the next generation of plant managers is coming from.  We are a graying institution,” said Chuck Crapo, a seafood specialist at the Fishery Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak.    

“You look at the plant managers in Alaska and many of them have been in their positions for 20-30 years and they are contemplating retirement. As an industry we have had a hard time finding and convincing some of the young promising people that working in the seafood industry is a good career choice.”

To help turn the tide, Fish Tech will again host students of the Alaska Seafood Processor Leadership Institute this fall. The  program began in 2006 by Alaska  Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Program to provide intensive professional development for plant supervisors, foremen or others working their way up in the processing industry.

Classes begin with 10 days of technical immersion in Kodiak in October where the focus is on technical issues of operating a processing plant, such as   energy efficiency and lean management techniques.  Training moves to Anchorage in early spring where the focus shifts to leadership skills and project management. The program ends in mid-March with a trip to the  Boston Seafood Show to show how Alaska seafood plays in the  international scene.

Nearly 30 students have gone through the ASPLI program so far and    most have remained in the seafood processing industry.

“About 70% have remained,” Crapo said.  “I was just in Dutch Harbor and found out that one of our alumni is about to become the plant manager and Westward Seafoods.”

ASPLI students must be sponsored by a seafood company, who pay a $3,000 tuition fee. The program provides the airfare, and room and board at the various training locations, and also has vocational training funds to help offset fees. 

“It is an opportunity for processing companies to provide an  intensive, professional development experience for the up and coming, next generation  of managers,” Crapo said.

Deadline to apply to the ASPLI training program is Sept. 15.

Fish watch

Alaska’s salmon season is on the home stretch but other fisheries are just getting underway.  Pollock fishing reopened around Kodiak on August  25 and  that fishery was expected to deliver 42 million pounds of pollock in a matter of days.  The fleet and local processors are partnering to donate all bycatch to food banks…. The Gulf also reopens to Pacific cod on September 1. … Alaska longliners have about 8 million pounds remaining in the 30 million pound halibut catch limit. The golden king crab season got underway August 15 the in the Bering Sea, the same day that the summer Dungeness crab fishery ended in Southeast Alaska. Early reports indicate a so-so catch of about two million pounds. The crab fetched higher prices - $2.20, up 60 cents from last year.  The Southeast crab will compete against the bumper catch that just wrapped up in Oregon, where for the fifth time in 10 years, Dungeness landings topped 20 million pounds.  

Get on yer fish soap box!

Want to have your say in a full page of Pacific Fishing magazine?  Editor Don McManman is  “asking smart guys to write essays about what, in their judgment, are the biggest challenges facing commercial fishing in the next five years - and how best those challenges will be met.”

The selected one page essays (about 850 words) will be published in the November and December issues which McManman said are the largest and best-read of the year, and are handed out at Fish Expo.

Deadline is September 15. Email or call Don at 509-772-2578. 



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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SitNews ©2011
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska


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