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Fish Factor

2006 Alaska Fish Picks & Highlights
By Laine Welch


December 31, 2006

Commercial fishing in Alaska remains a vibrant industry that is the envy of other countries around the world. Managers and industry stakeholders are protective stewards of Alaska's robust marine resources - especially while the fisheries are being retooled to conform to the tough realities of changing times.

Here is a sampler of Alaska seafood industry highlights from 2006, in no particular order or priority, followed by my annual picks of top fish stories -

Alaska halibut prices topped $4/lb in major ports during the entire eight month season, making the fishery worth nearly $195 million at the docks. The halibut market is expected to remain hot in 2007.

The Alaska salmon harvest of 141.5 million was valued at $309 million. It marked the first time in a decade that back to back salmon harvests topped $300 million.

Pink salmon continued its shift from low value cans into the more lucrative frozen market. Alaska processors put in more fillet lines for all salmon species, especially sockeye.

Managers lopped nearly five percent off the top of the Bering Sea king crab quota due to high discard rates. Crabbers signed pledges to do better for the 2006 season, and by all accounts, they did.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans said they are aware that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of heart disease. Omega 3's from fish were credited with calming hyperactive kids, reducing Alzheimer's Disease, slowing cancer growth, improving babies' brain and eyesight development and reducing wrinkles. Fish oil capsules became the fastest growing nutritional supplement in the market.

Oceanographers predicted a 150 percent increase in ocean acidity by the end of this century. That has the skeletons of corals, crabs and snails dissolving due to global emissions of carbon dioxide caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Marine scientists also claimed some fish stocks will disappear in 40 years..and that snow crab, pollock and other fish stocks would head further north due to global warming changes.

Nearly half of America's 110 million time crunched households now eat frozen seafoods. Nearly half of the fish consumed worldwide are now raised on fish farms.

Wild Alaska salmon made it onto the menus of world food aid programs in the form of 1,400 tons of canned pinks ­ purchases also expanded to canned keta (chums).

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation began a project to develop salmon based baby foods. The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers led a charge to get 'tasty and appealing' fish into the nation's school lunch program.

Bristol Bay salmon fishermen voted on a one percent tax on their catches to fund their own Regional Seafood Development Association.

Smoked Yukon king salmon from two small companies bested all others at the Symphony of Seafood events in Las Vegas and Anchorage ­ Boreal Fisheries of St. Mary's ( and Yukon King Seafoods of Marshall, AK (

Alaska Sea Grant launched the state's first crab enhancement project, designed to one day restore wild king crab stocks around the Pribilof Islands and Kodiak.
The "Deadliest Catch" series on the Discovery Channel was rated the top non-sports show on cable television.

Pacific halibut and sablefish merited a 'green' label by the international Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The label tells customers their purchases come from well managed, fisheries.

Wal-Mart pledged to source seafood only from fisheries that are certified by the MSC as being sustainably managed and friendly to the environment. Other mega-corporations in the U.S. and Europe quickly followed suit. Alaska's largest fisheries: pollock, salmon and halibut boast the MSC label, as does sablefish.

'Sustainable' was selected as the top word for 2006 by Global Language Monitor.

National reports said the health benefits of eating seafood far outweigh any risks from contaminants. Experts rated Alaska pink, coho or chum salmon as #1 on a new Kid Safe food list.

The U.S. government launched its '10 Year Plan for a National Aquaculture Program.' Cod, halibut, sablefish and tuna are identified as suitable candidates for U.S. aquaculture. NOAA Fisheries hopes to get the program underway this year

2006 Fish Picks

Best Alaska fish boost: Wal-Mart, Disney and other mega-companies that have pledged to buy only seafood that comes from well managed fisheries.

Best 'fish crat': Denby Lloyd, new AK Dept. of Fish Game commissioner

Scariest fish story: Offshore aquaculture

Biggest Fish Folly: Canada's proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay

Best fish about face: Stephanie Madsen, departing as head of the major shore based processors' trade group to take the helm of the At-sea Processors Assoc.

Biggest fish dilemma: Gulf Rationalization ­ how to divide up 25 groundfish species among all gear groups

Best new product: Kodiak Solstix, pink salmon jerky snack sticks by Alaska Spirit LLC (

Baddest fish attitude: FBI investigations into major seafood companies

Fondest farewell: Retiring Phil Smith, director of the federal Restricted Access Management division, whose shop since 1995 has gotten all quota share programs onto the water

Most promising fish story: Alaska Sea Grant's king crab enhancement project

Best fish accomplishment: The Bering Sea crab industry working together to reduce discards

Best fish end run: The proposed state fish refuge at Bristol Bay

Best fish mover/shaker: Bruce Schactler of Kodiak who almost single handedly has helped redefine federal feeding rules to include Alaska canned pink and chum salmon in world food aid programs.

Best fish story of the year: Bipartisan passage by Congress of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law that oversees conservation and management of our nation's fisheries.


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets. Thank you for your continued support and interest in Alaska's vibrant and fascinating seafood industry.

Best wishes for a safe, healthy and prosperous New Year!
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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