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Fish Factor

Alaska's salmon catch will come in on target
By Laine Welch


September 02, 2008
Tuesday PM

It's been a nail biter all summer, but latest counts indicate that Alaska's salmon catch will indeed come in on target. By August 29 the statewide harvest topped 134 million fish, just shy of the preseason projection of 137 million salmon. And there is a still lot of fishing left to go.

Coho catches (2.5 million so far) will continue into October and should reach the 4.4 million forecasted by state managers; chum harvests at 16 million are approaching the 18.7 million projection. The biggest slump for the season will come from a shortfall in the big money fish: sockeye salmon, which were expected to yield a harvest of 47 million fish.

"Bristol Bay came in a little short at 27 million reds, but the rest of the sockeye fisheries in the state were projected for a total harvest of16 million, and the combined catch for those other regions is closer to 10 million," said market analyst Chris McDowell of the Juneau-based McDowell group.

Alaska salmon goes to market in many different forms and it takes many months for sales to play out across the globe. Prices to fishermen are higher in most regions, but the dockside value for the season isn't likely to top last year's catch.

"In 2007 the value ended up at $416 million, and it was the first time in 12 years that we cracked the $400 million mark - but that was the 3rd largest harvest on record at 212 million salmon," McDowell said.

Market trends that could boost the value of the 2008 catch include the hot market for salmon roe.

"There is a lot more demand from Russia and Eastern Europe, and that has drained off some of the volume that goes to the traditional market of Japan. I wouldn't quite call it a bidding war, but they are certainly competing against one another," McDowell said.

Alaska salmon also could benefit from misfortunes with its biggest competitor ­ farmed fish from Chile. Since last July more than 100 fish farms have tested positive for infectious salmon anemia (ISA), and at least 25 million pounds of fish have been discarded.

"As a result, that has kept the Chilean growers from expanding their production as much as they had expected, and it has helped to keep the salmon market somewhat stronger than it might have been," said fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp at the University of Alaska/Anchorage. "It hasn't caused the salmon supply to decline, but press reports from Japan say that Chilean coho is in short enough supply that it has led to a strengthening in salmon prices over there."

A Chilean government task force cited the $2.2 billion farmed salmon industry for the "intensive" use of antibiotics, according SeafoodSource. Antibiotics that are not allowed in American aquaculture are legal in Chile and may increase antibiotic resistance for people. However, less than 2 percent of the fish imported to the U.S. is inspected by federal agents, according to industry reports.

Americans can reassure themselves by checking labels at seafood counters ­ new federal laws require that labels must identify country of origin, and if the product is farmed or wild fish.

Cats cause overfishing?

Cat owners who feed their pets fish are contributing to overfishing and threatening fish stocks worldwide, say Australian researchers. Reports from Deakin University claim the global cat food industry consumes nearly 5.5 billion pounds of forage fish that comprise a critical part of the food chain for larger fish, sea mammals and birds.

And pampered cats eat far more fish than people do - 30 pounds per year, well above the Australian per capita consumption of 24 pounds; seafood consumption in the U.S. is just over 16 pounds per person. The Australian study said the global pet food industry is increasingly marketing luxury fish products that contain a significant amount of fish that may be suitable for humans.

"The question that pops into my mind is what are the cats actually eating?" said Brett Gibson of Anchorage-based Arctic Paws, producer of Yummy Chummy pet treats, oils and other products. "Are they catching fish to feed the cats, or are they eating the byproducts left over after it is processed for human consumption? If so, that is fully utilizing the resource."

Arctic Paws uses more than one million pounds of pink salmon each year from Valdez hatcheries for its pet products. Gibson agreed that more pet owners are being very discriminate in their pet food purchases, and wild salmon is becoming increasingly popular. In just a few years, Arctic Paws products have expanded nationwide to include Target, PetCo, WalMart, andWinn Dixie.

Feds fund U.S. fish farms

True to its commitment to expand U.S. aquaculture, NOAA Fisheries has backed growing operations for cod and shrimp farms. Nearly $500,000 in federal grants has been awarded to the University of New Hampshire and Great Bay Aquaculture to advance offshore farming of cod and other North Atlantic species, including halibut. UNH and Great Bay have pioneered hatchery techniques to mass produce cod fish and are set to stock 100,000 juveniles into cages off the coast of Maine.

The feds also awarded a $2.3 million grant to the Oceanic Institute to pioneer shrimp farming in Hawaii. The so called U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Program is a partnership of several universities to collaborate on high yield, sustainable production techniques.

Perhaps most interesting is a $270,000 project designed to train fish to return to nets when they hear a tone that signals feeding time. Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts began the experiment last week by placing 5,000 sea bass into an underwater dome in Buzzards Bay. The researchers will try to train the fish with a special tone that signals feeding time. After a few weeks of training the fish will be released into the ocean. The ultimate goal is to learn if hatchery-raised fish can be trained to return to be caught by commercial fishermen. The Woods Hole sea bass training project will continue through October.



Laine Welch has been writing about Alaska's seafood industry since 1991. Her Fish Factor column appears each week in nearly 20 papers and websites. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 30 stations in Alaska. This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Visit or contact


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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