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Alaska Fish Factor: Alaska's Two Most Important Species Growing in Abundance

29 September 2014
 Alaska Fish Factor: Laine Welch Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. She also has worked ‘behind the counter’ in wholesale and retail seafood businesses in Alaska and Cape Cod, MA. Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska. www.alaskafishradio.com

msfish@alaskan.com
 
 

US - Alaska’s conservative management combined with the grace of Mother Nature are swelling the abundance of two of the state’s largest and most important fisheries.

Bering Sea crab scientists and stakeholder met last week to discuss the outlook for Alaska’s biggest crab fisheries that open October 15th. The take away was that the stocks of red king crab, bairdi Tanners and snow crab all showed big increases in mature size classes, based on data from the annual summer surveys. (Only mature male crabs cans be retained in Alaska’s crab fisheries.)

That has industry watchers predicting little, if any, change to the crab catches, said market expert John Sackton. The data did show some peculiarities though – there are indications that a spike in water temperature (by 2 degrees Celsius) might have redistributed the crabs into survey areas as they moved in search of colder waters. That could discount stock increases, Sackton said.

Raw data showed an increase in the red king crab biomass from 34,000 tons to nearly 48,000 tons, well above the five year average, and mature females also increased. For snow crab, mature males increased from 58,000 tons to more than 105,000 tons, Sackton said, and the level of male recruits increased 40 percent to over 140,000 tons.

The crab catch quotas for the 2013/2014 season were 8.6 million pounds for Bristol Bay red king crab; 1.6 million for Tanners, and 54 million pounds for snow crab. The Bering Sea crab fisheries are jointly managed by the state and federal government; the catch quotas are set by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.

Similarly, Alaska’s pollock stocks may be at the highest level since 1982. Even better, trawl and acoustic surveys also showed several big year classes coming into the pollock fishery, said Dr. Jim Ianelli, NOAA’s chief pollock scientist. The Alaska pollock fishery accounts for 70 percent of the total Bering Sea harvest, and is the nation’s largest fishery.

However, the robust stock won’t translate into a higher catches. The fishery is managed under a two million ton cap; last year’s quota was 1.3 million tons, equaling nearly 3 billion pounds.

Sockeye watch - The sockeyes are still running at Fraser River in British Columbia, with the latest date on record for commercial catches. The total run now is pegged at about 21 million, and the harvest last week topped the preseason forecast of 10 million fish. Fishing could continue for another week. Early prices for the Fraser sockeyes were at US$1.50/lb. Alaska’s sockeye salmon catch this year stands at 44 million fish.

The 2014 Fraser River sockeye run will be noted for more than its healthy size. Seafood.com reported that warmer than usual ocean temperatures caused a change in migration pattern and almost the entire run took the northern route around Vancouver Island. That bypassed US waters giving American fishermen landings of just 625,000 reds. The two countries share the Fraser salmon return in an 83.5 to 16.5 percentage split in the catches.

The Fraser fish also fell prey to increased attacks of lamprey eels this summer.

Fake fish fracas - A group of 90 scientists and biotechnology execs from around the world is pushing President Obama to expedite final approval of genetically modified salmon for US markets. They urged in a letter last week that the Food and Drug Administration put an end to the long wait for final approval of laboratory produced salmon made by Aqua Bounty Technologies. The company has been trying for FDA approval for 20 years for what would be the first animal ok’d for human consumption. The scientists argue that the genetic techniques used in salmon are no different that used in the hundreds of millions of acres of GMO crops that are planted each year.

The Frankenfish backers said that the Aqua Bounty salmon has met or exceeded all federal requirements and reviews, and called the 16 month review of public comments ‘unprecedented.’

More than 1.5 million people wrote in opposition to the genetically tweaked salmon, and 65 supermarkets have said they won’t carry it.

Senator Mark Begich was the first to pounce on the prospect of ‘test tube’ fish in a retaliatory letter.

“These East Coast scientists should learn a lesson from Dr. Frankenstein—just because you create something in a lab doesn’t mean it is safe for the public. The claims that GMO salmon are safe are simply not true,” said Begich.

Studies have shown that GMO salmon, which can grow three times faster than normal, can breed with wild fish. Begich said that escapees could decimate Alaska’s wild salmon stocks negligence, just as GMO wheat has been found growing in the wild—a development we were assured could never happen.

“You can’t put the genetics genie back in the bottle, and that’s why I will keep fighting to make sure GMO salmon are never approved by the FDA,” he added.

Senators Begich and Murkowski co-sponsored legislation to stop FDA approval, and to require labeling if Frankenfish is approved. Senator Murkowski has questioned if it can even be called a real fish.

“This takes a transgenic Atlantic salmon egg, which has genes from an ocean pout, somewhat akin to an eel, and it combines with the genes of a Chinook salmon,” she has testified to Congress. “I have questioned time and time again, why we would want to be messing with Mother Nature like this? We are trying to invent a species that would grow quicker to out compete our wild stocks. This experiment puts at risk the health of our fisheries not only in Alaska, but throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Fish trends - New packaging, new flavors and easy to prepare meals made a big splash last week at the New Product Showcase at Seafood Expo in Barcelona, Spain.

SeafoodSource reports that a product called "Sum Boxes" by Vivos Y Perecederos is self-assembled, recyclable and waterproof. Compared to expanded polystyrene seafood boxes, the Sum Boxes costs 30 to 40 percent less.

Fish Snack’s by Savia Nature are crispy salmon and cod skins of in different flavors. Seafood burgers, sausages, brochettes and meatballs made of salmon, tuna, bonito and swordfish were presented by the company Josmares. Cream cheese with caviar also drew rave reviews.

Fish on! Congressional candidates will face off over fish issues at a debate from 7-9pm on October 1st in Kodiak. Sen. Begich and opponent Dan Sullivan will take center stage during the first hour, followed by Rep. Don Young and challenger Forrest Dunbar. The fisheries debate, hosted by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, will be broadcast live over Alaska Public Radio Network stations, and live streamed via KMXT/Kodiak. NHK Japan Broadcasting plans to record the event.

Check www.kmxt.org for video and audio links.

This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaskan.com

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