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Fish Factor

Fish Aid Concert Aids Fishing Industry Relief
By Laine Welch


October 03, 2005

Long after the world's eye turns away from the immediate drama of devastation caused by natural disasters, the people left behind face the toughest task of rebuilding their lives. That reality has spawned a long term effort by Alaska's fishing industry to help their hurricane ravaged counterparts in the Gulf of Mexico get back out on the water.
jpg Laine Welch

A Fish Aid concert and auction in Juneau on September 30 kicked off fund raising efforts with all proceeds going to the Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission (AFIRM), a new non-profit group formed at the urging of Senator Lisa Murkowski. "Where do you start when your whole life has been blown away? This is something that will provide funds directly to fishermen and their families," said Scott McAllister, a Southeast fisherman who helped launch the grass roots effort.

The United Fishermen of Alaska quickly stepped in to really get things rolling. (In fact, McAllister and UFA director Mark Vinsel paid all Fish Aid concert costs out of their own pockets.) Vinsel said at first, UFA wanted to help by sending gear and equipment to fishermen in Louisiana and Mississippi - but they quickly realized that many of them had lost their boats and homes. "It is apparent that our wishes to help get our brothers back on the water are a bit ahead of the game. They need to get their lives stabilized first, and the best thing we can do right now is raise funds for basic needs," said Vinsel.

Vinsel points out that Alaska has a special bond with Gulf fishermen, especially the shrimpers. "It was by working together that we got wild and farmed seafood differentiated in the Country of Origin Labeling bill. That's made a big difference in the marketplace for our wild salmon. Without them, it wouldn't have happened. That binds us together and we're here to help them out," he said.

Vinsel and McAllister said they were disappointed over the scant coverage by major media about the devastation of the region's fishing industry. "It reflects the bigger problem of a lack of awareness by the public who think their food comes from the supermarket. They don't make the connection that people have to get out there and sweat and sometimes risk their lives for pennies on the dollar for the food they are eating. This is what binds us together," said McAllister.

Another Fish Aid concert is being organized for November's Fish Expo in Seattle, and other Alaska communities are challenged to put on similar events. Mark Vinsel, who is chairing AFIRM separately from UFA, added: "There will not be any part of Alaska's fishing industry that won't be tapped for funds. It's time for Alaska to show the kind of help we can bring to fellow fishermen. " Contact AFIRM at (907) 586-2820 or via email at .

CRAB BOOST - Bering Sea crabbers will enjoy bigger harvests of both red king crab at Bristol Bay and Bering Sea snow crab. Earlier speculation that numbers for red kings might be down proved to be unfounded, and the catch will be higher than expected at 18.3 million pounds, up 25 percent from last year. For snow crab, the harvest is set at just over 37 million pounds, a 61 percent increase over the 23 million pounds taken last season. And for the first time since 1997, Bering Sea crabbers can drop pots for bairdi Tanner crab. Those stocks have rebounded enough to allow a small harvest of just over one million pounds in waters west of 166 degrees.

All three crab fisheries will open on October 15th - a big difference for snow crab which traditionally has kicked off in mid-January. And under the new management plan that gives shares of the catch to participants, crabbers can drop pots at their leisure, as the seasons can remain open through May. Compare that to the red king crab fishery last year in which a fleet of nearly 250 boats took the 15 million pound quota in 80 hours. There will be far fewer boats out on the water this go around. "I expect there will be about 100 boats actively participating," said Kale Garcia, president of the Crab Group which represents independent harvesters. The Bering Sea crab fisheries last year were valued at $122 million at the docks.

Crabbers in Southeast Alaska will also be back out on the water for red kings after a controversial closure last year. They will compete for a catch of 200,000 pounds when the fishery opens November 1, worth an estimated $1 million to the region.

SEAWEED FIGHTS FAT, ADDS FIBER - You could enjoy junk food without getting fat - thanks to seaweed! reports that British researchers at Newcastle University have discovered that fast foods high in fats and calories could be made much healthier by adding an extract from seaweed called alginate. Alginate is already in wide use by the food industry as a gelling agent and to thicken the frothy head of premium beers. The scientists claim the all natural product could be added to popular fast foods or snack foods of all kinds and people wouldn't even know the difference.

The British researchers tested two brown colored seaweeds -lessonia and laminaria - found in the Far East, South America, and parts of Norway and Scotland. In their labs, they processed it into alginate - a tasteless, odorless off-white colored powder that is very high in fiber. It's well known that fiber helps reduce the risks of many life threatening illnesses, but sadly, most people simply don't get enough in their daily diets.

The scientists say that since it is so difficult to change people's eating habits, an easier course would be to simply improve the foods they eat. Some of the fats could be removed from burgers, for example, and replaced with the seaweed extract. It could also be added to any number of products, such as pies, cakes, creams and yogurts. They claim that alginate could quadruple the amount of fiber in one of the most widely eaten foods - white bread. The findings of the alginate study are published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.


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