SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Second International Smart Gear Competition Begins
By Laine Welch


December 05, 2005

Alaska might boast the world's most abundant and best managed fisheries, but it was glaringly absent last year when it came to offering good ideas for cleaner fishing. The World Wildlife Fund hopes to lure Alaskans as well as others from around the world to participate in its second International Smart Gear competition which began recently.  The best idea will net the winner $25,000; two runners up each will receive $5,000 cash prizes. 
jpg Laine Welch

Accidentally catching sea birds, marine mammals, sea turtles, small fish or non-target species with fishing gear ­ called bycatch - is a major problem around the world.  The WWF believes working with the industry is the best way to achieve mutual goals that protect marine life and promote sustainable fisheries. "We want to inspire and reward new ideas to reduce bycatch. Our thinking is that we can accomplish a lot more by working together to change fishing to make it smarter," said Kim Davis, director of WWF's marine conservation program. 

Davis said the most innovative and practical ideas are often the most effective. "Big fancy, expensive solutions won't be as helpful to all of us as something that is simple and powerful," she said in a phone interview from Washington, DC. The 2005 Smart Gear winner, for example, (Steve Beverly of New Caledonia) weighted hook and line gear to get it out faster and deeper (to 300 feet). That simple modification resulted in fewer takes of sea turtles and increased tuna catches. With support from WWF, the gear is being tested on a large scale in both Hawaii and Australia. Beverly has also produced a brochure titled "Setting your longline deep: Catch more target fish and avoid bycatch by using a new gear design."

The  $5,000 winners included an American and Canadian team who combined glowing ropes and stiffer webbing that helped marine mammals detect and avoid gillnets. And a group of scientists from India developed a system of angled metal grids and net meshes that allowed small fish and shrimp to swim free. WWF"s Kim Davis said the goal is to "share the ideas with fishing fleets around the world and get the new gear out on the water."

The 2005 contest attracted 50 entries from 16 countries, of which 13 came from the U.S. WWF hopes to get 100 entries this time around. "We think that most of the good ideas will come from fishermen who really know the gear and have done a lot of thinking over the years about how it can be changed to fish cleaner," Davis said. The winners of the WWF International Smart Gear Competition will be decided by a diverse set of judges, including fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers from all over the world. Information and entry forms (in several languages) are available at   Deadline to enter the contest is March 15, 2006.
RSDA'S MEAN MORE THAN MARKETING ­ The state's new Regional Seafood Development Associations (RSDA's) provide more opportunities for Alaska communities than many realize. The legislature last year approved the formation of 12 regional RSDA's to enhance local marketing efforts. The RSDA's are funded by a tax on fishermen's' catches.  Southeast's   Rainforest Wild is only the third group to embrace the opportunity so far, following Copper River/Prince William Sound and Bristol Bay. Unlike the other groups, which only include salmon fisheries, Rainforest Wild has a much broader base. "We have 69 different gear cards, ranging from sea cucumbers to crab to black cod and salmon. Just about every fishery is represented here in Southeast," said spokesman Gig Decker of Wrangell.

Assuming the region's fishermen vote to approve a tax on their catches, it will provide several hundred thousand dollars each year for marketing projects. Decker said what many don't realize is that RSDA's also open the door for federal and state grant dollars. The reason? A lot of federal funds go into the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture that now includes fishing.

Gig Decker said: "The power of an RSDA is much greater than just collecting assessments and doing advertising.  If we feel there needs to be a cold storage or more docks or things like that, as a region we can prioritize our infrastructure developments and lobby directly for funds. RSDA's can also help develop business plans, change the way fisheries are managed, and most importantly, direct the flow of money into significant projects that will benefit our whole region."

The Copper River/Prince William Sound fishermen have already voted on a one percent tax to fund their RSDA. The Bristol Bay and Southeast groups will vote on an assessment in the spring. 
 SEAFOOD SODA, JUICE & ICE CREAM- There's no end to the imagination of seafood marketers. Seattle-based Jones Soda Company, for example, has created a smoked salmon flavored beverage as part of a five bottle, regional holiday pack. Along with salmon soda, the $13 package also includes turkey and gravy, corn on the cob, broccoli casserole and pecan pie flavored soda pops.       

Vending machines in England and Ireland are serving up a "think drink" called SupaJus. It's packed with fish oil, but reportedly tastes just like orange juice. Created by Scotland's Natural Fruit and Beverage Company, one pouch of SupaJus contains half the recommended daily intake of omega three's and DHA and is also fortified with vitamin E and green tea. The SupaJus, which sells for about $1.40, is being targeted toward children and pregnant women.

Finally, seafood ice cream has become a popular seller in Taiwan, where 13 different flavors are offered under the brand name of Doctor Ice. The flavors, which include pineapple shrimp, wasabi cuttlefish, strawberry tuna and mango seaweed, come in stark colors ranging from orange to green and the most popular - black. The ice cream sells for just over $1 dollar per scoop, and is topped with sprinkles of dried fish, roe or chopped squid. The novel dessert was created two years ago by a woman named Liny Hsueh, who is expanding to a second outlet and adding scallops as the newest flavor to her seafood ice cream line up.     
FISHY FAREWELL - After 22 years as editor of the Alaska Fisherman's Journal, John Van Amerongen is leaving this month to take a new job with Trident Seafoods. "There have been so many years chasing deadlines on the monthly merry go round, and while I've really enjoyed the ride, I feel like it's time to hop off," he said. Van Am, as he is known by most, will join Trident's sales and marketing department as a writer and photographer and work on special projects. "Instead of writing about fish, I'll be selling it," he added. Jerry Fraser, editor of National Fisherman will fill in until a replacement is found for Van Am. The AFJ is part of Diversified Communications, which also publishes Work Boat and Seafood Business Magazines.


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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Ketchikan, Alaska