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Fish Factor

Alaska's fishing season lasts into the winter
By Laine Welch


October 16, 2006

It's amazing how many people think Alaska's fisheries end when salmon season is over. In fact, October launches a whole line of fishing seasons that last long into the winter.

On October 1, for example, lucrative dive fisheries open in Southeast Alaska where hundreds of hookah-rigged divers head down to harvest million pounds of pricey sea cucumbers, red urchins and giant geoduck clams. Smaller dive fisheries also occur at the same time around Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. The fall Dungeness crab season and several shrimp fisheries also kick off in Southeast on October 1, followed by a red king crab opener in November.

Alaska's largest crab fisheries in the Bering Sea take center stage starting on October 15th - for red king crab in the eastern waters, better known as Bristol Bay, and for snow crab and its larger cousin, bairdi Tanner crab. Those fisheries are operating for the second time under a quota share system that can stretch out the seasons for several months. The red king crab fishery is likely to last into December, while the snow crab fishery won't really get underway until January and could run through April.

Halibut and sablefish (black cod) seasons remain in full swing for another month (see following article). Various boats throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea may also be targeting herring, flatfish and other groundfish species this month and longer.

Getting back to Alaska salmon - just when you think it's all over, Southeast trollers were back out on the water October 11 for the start of the winter king season. That will run through April 30, or until 45,000 kings are caught. That means that except for about two weeks until the Copper River fishery begins in mid-May, wild Alaska salmon is available nearly year round.

On a related note: people often speak of the economic woes of "the industry" when they are referring specifically to Alaska salmon, and the pounding it has taken in world markets for the past decade or so due to cheaper farmed fish. Alaska's seafood industry includes much more than just salmon, and it is important to make that distinction when talking about "the industry" as a whole.

Halibut, sablefish prices continue to climb- Halibut prices started off last winter at well over $3 a pound in major ports­ and they have continued to tick upwards to unheard of levels. In fact, the halibut price was up by more than one dollar at the docks for all sizes since June.

At Kodiak, for example, halibut prices were hovering at $4.30 for 10 to 20 pounders, $4.55 for fish weighing 20 to 40 pounds, and up to $4.85 for larger sizes. Halibut prices at Homer were reported at $4.65 to $5.50 on a three way split. In Dutch Harbor, halibut was fetching $3.60, $3.95 and $4.35 a pound. And in Southeast, halibut prices were at $4.10, $4.30 and $4.80. Several buyers called the upward spiral "incredible," "nuts" and "spooky" and worried that the fish would price itself out of favor in the marketplace. But by all accounts, both fresh and frozen markets were going strong. Top ports for halibut landings are Homer, Kodiak, Seward, Sitka, Dutch Harbor and Juneau.

Prices also continued through the ceiling for sablefish, or black cod. That market is split into five sizes and at Kodiak, the prices ranged from $3.20 for the smallest weights to $4.55 a pound for fish over seven pounds. Sablefish at Homer had reached a high of $4.60 for larger sizes. At Dutch Harbor, prices were at $3.60 to $4.55 a pound. Sablefish was fetching $3.10 to $4.60 in Southeast. Top ports for sablefish landings are Seward, Sitka, Dutch Harbor and Kodiak.

With just one month left to go, Alaska longliners have taken 90 percent of the 53.3 million pound halibut catch limit. For sablefish, the total harvest is at 83 percent of the nearly 35 million pound quota. Both fisheries end on November 15th and will reopen in late February or early March.

Doctor's orders: take fish oil - Every patient who survives a heart attack at the San Filippo Neri Hospital in Italy goes home with a prescription for purified fish oil that contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
The New York Times reported last week that Italian cardiologists believe so strongly in its preventive powers, they say it is considered "tantamount to malpractice in Italy to omit fish oils from treatment."

Studies around the world have shown that fish oil improves survival rates after heart attacks and reduces often fatal irregular heart rhythms. In the largest study conducted more than a decade ago, Italian researchers gave 11,000 heart attack patients one gram of prescription fish oil a day. After three years, the study found that the number of deaths was reduced by 20 percent, and the number of sudden deaths by 40 percent compared with a control group.

But in the United States, heart attack victims are seldom given omega-3 fatty acids. Instead, they are routinely offered more expensive and invasive treatments, like pills or implantable defibrillators (click here).

A study published last month in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that only 17 percent of family doctors were likely to prescribe fish oil to their patients, including those who had suffered a heart attack. Experts said the fact that patients receive such different treatments in sophisticated hospitals around the world highlights the central role that drug companies play in disseminating medical information. Because prescription fish oil is not licensed to prevent heart disease in the U.S., drug companies may not legally promote it for that purpose.

The Times also noted that some doctors won't regard fish oil as an effective preventive treatment because it is a nutritional supplement. American doctors interviewed said, "most cardiologists here are not giving omega-3's even though the data supports it - there's a real disconnect." Fish oil is the fastest growing nutritional supplement in the market today.



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.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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