SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Sea otters & Commercial Dive Fisheries, Can They Coexist?


December 12, 2011

Sea otters are cleaning out valuable commercial fisheries in Southeast Alaska, and they have been at it for decades.  A second report by the McDowell Group of Juneau updates the financial hit the otters have caused to the region’s fisheries since 2005. Both were done for the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association (SARDFA), based in Ketchikan.

The reports assess losses to the sea cucumber, geoduck clam, red sea urchin, and Dungeness crab fisheries.  The bottom line - sea otter predation in those fisheries has cost Southeast Alaska’s economy more than $28 million in direct and indirect impacts since 1995. These fisheries employ roughly 625 fishermen and dozens more tender operators and processing workers.

Fishery managers estimate sea otters affect 39 percent of Southeast’s dive fishery harvest areas. And out of 15 Dungeness crab districts, six have large otter populations and Dungie pots have lost nearly 3 million pounds to otters in a decade.

Best estimates say about 19,000 sea otters had taken up residence in Southeast Alaska in 2011.  That number is expected to approach 28,000 by 2015, based on a conservative estimate of otter body weight at 50 pounds, and daily food intake of 20% of bodyweight. The report said   that number of  animals would consume over 10 million pounds of Southeast Alaska’s dive and crab species per year.

The McDowell report draws a grim conclusion, saying “In short, commercial dive fishing and large populations of sea otters cannot coexist in the same waters. In addition, once the commercially viable biomass of crab and macro invertebrates – such as sea cucumbers and geoducks - is gone, it likely will not return given sustained sea otter predation.”

For more information contact SARDFA’s Phil Doherty at

Fishing fees

Alaska fishermen who hold catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. The fee, which is capped at three percent, is based on dock prices and averaged across the state.

Bills were mailed to 2,163 Alaska longliners, compared to 2,187 last year.  For halibut and black cod (sablefish) coverage costs, this year’s fee of 1.6% totaled $5.2 million, up from $3.9 million last year, said Troie Zuniga, fee coordinator at NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

Record dock prices drove both fisheries during the eight month season.  This year’s average price for halibut was $6.56/lb and $5.15/lb for black cod. That compares to averages of $4.86/lb for halibut and $3.21 per pound for black cod last year.

The prices used in the federal data are based on buyers’ reports through the end of September and don’t’ reflect the last six weeks of the fisheries.  Still, the overall values are impressive.

For halibut the overall Alaska value is $194 million and about $124 million for black cod. That’s $610,000 higher than the 2010 value for halibut, and $41 million higher for black cod, Zuniga said.

The Bering Sea crab fisheries yielded $3.2 million for management and enforcement costs, and a coverage fee of 1.23% will remain through 2012.  The value of the 2010/2011 Bering Sea crab fisheries based on eLanding delivery reports is $262 million, compared to $147 million last season.

Zuniga said Alaska’s IFQ fishermen have a nearly 100% track record of paying their fees on time.  

Payment deadline for longliners is January 31st, and at the end of July for crabbers.  

Bay Watch:

Marubeni Corporation has purchased Yardarm Knot's Naknek seafood processing plant, making the company Japan’s largest sockeye salmon buyer. Marubeni is the parent company of North Pacific Seafoods in Alaska.

Seafood Soiree

The call is out for product entries for the 19th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood. Products include three categories: retail, food service and smoked. The new seafood items will be judged at an event in Seattle on Feb. 2; winners will be announced at a ‘gala soiree’ in Anchorage on Feb. 10. Entry deadline is Jan. 6. Get more info at



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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