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Alaska Fish Factor: Alaskans Talk Budgets and Bycatch

23 November 2015
 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.

US - Alaskans are being asked to weigh in on two tough issues: budgets and halibut bycatch. First off, the state Boards of Fish and Game are asking for ideas on cutting costs within their annual meeting cycles, as well as for the state agencies involved with providing all of the backup information to the boards.

Both boards include seven members which are appointed by the governor and approved by the Alaska legislature for three year terms.

The Fish Board’s role is to conserve and develop the fishery resources for the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport, guided sport and personal use fisheries. It includes setting policy for managers, as well as fishing seasons, bag limits, fishing methods, and allocative decisions.

Similarly, the Game Board’s role includes establishing hunting seasons, areas for taking game, bag limits, and regulating hunting methods. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) is responsible for management based on those decisions.

A day-long meeting is set for Dec. 9 at the Egan Center in Anchorage to get cost-cutting input from the public.

“Just based on the normal meeting schedules that the boards have, we don’t even have enough at status quo in terms of a budget to meet their needs,” said Glenn Haight, Executive Director of Fish and Game Board Support, adding that the meeting focus is on fiscal year 2017, which starts in July 2016.

The combined meeting costs vary each year, Haight said, but are roughly $500,000. That includes travel expenses of $200,000 to $230,000 for members of 60 to 70 active Board advisory committees.

One idea floated at a recent work session, Haight said, is to extend the current regional three year meeting cycle to four or even five years. That would save $100,000 for board support tasks.

“Some would say there is already too much time between meeting cycles and further delay would make it harder to make regulatory changes, and would cause more agenda change requests and emergency petitions,” Haight said. “Others say extending the meeting cycle to five years is good for a business because it provides a more stable environment for planning.”

Another idea is to reduce the number of regulatory proposals, or streamline the review process by ADFG staff.

“Between both boards, there are upwards of 400-500 proposals each year. If there was a way to reduce the number of proposals, or to at least streamline the review efforts by the boards, that would save a lot of money by division staff, and they are the ones who are sustaining significant budget reductions,” Haight explained.

Perhaps some cost saving changes could be made within the meetings themselves.

“There’s a standard pattern to meetings,” Haight said. “From introductions to ethic disclosures to staff reports, then public testimony followed by moving into committees and finally, deliberations. Is there anything within those areas where one could do without or do less of to save time?”

Written comments may be sent to the Boards Support Section in Juneau or emailed to (PDF only) by December 4. An online option also soon will be posted to accept comments long after the December 9 meeting.

Help with halibut bycatch – Federal fishery managers want Alaskans to comment on a proposed rule (Amendment 111) to reduce halibut bycatch in Bering Sea and Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries.

The rule would reduce the overall annual halibut trawl bycatch from 9.7 million pounds to 7.7 million pounds, a 21 percent drop. It also would reduce the bycatch taken by hook and line boats by 15 percent to 1.5 million pounds.

“This action is expected to provide additional harvest opportunity and revenue for the commercial halibut fishery in the regional management area. It could also benefit the commercial, personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries there and elsewhere in Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest as halibut migrate southward,” NOAA officials said.

Comments can be made to the Sustainable Fisheries Division in Juneau or via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at through Dec. 28.

On a related note, the industry will get a first peek at proposed halibut catches for next year when the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets Dec. 1-2 in Seattle. Final decisions will made at the IPHC annual meeting set for Jan. 25-29 in Juneau.

Groundfish grows jobs - Alaska’s seafood industry puts more people to work than oil/gas, mining, tourism and logging combined, and the numbers continue to grow, thanks to increased catches of groundfish, primarily pollock and cod.

According to the November issue of Alaska Economic Trends by the state Department of Labor, fishing employment grew by 0.7 percent in 2014, boosted by 350 jobs in groundfish harvesting - a nearly 25 percent increase. Gains were made in every month of the year, with employment records set in March and December. Groundfish jobs in Kodiak increased by nearly 17 percent during the year.

Groundfish dominates total poundage landed for all Alaska fisheries, and last year’s catches increased that share to 84 percent, up from 73 percent in 2013. Nationally, Alaska provided nearly 65 percent of all groundfish harvests.

Other report highlights show that Southeast Alaska’s share of harvesting jobs declined 2 percent in 2014, but the Panhandle still had the highest percentage of industry employment in the state.

Southeast’s Dungeness crab fishery gained 29 jobs, for nearly 20 percent growth.

Overall, Alaska crab harvesting gained 12 jobs, or about 2 percent.

The Aleutians and Pribilof Islands’ ranked second with triple digit average annual employment in salmon, halibut, groundfish, and crab harvesting.

The South-central Region, which includes the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet salmon and halibut fisheries, came in third for fishing jobs, followed by Kodiak.

It comes as a surprise to many that Anchorage is home to more skippers than any other Alaska community, and nearly 2,200 commercial fishing permit holders live in that region.

Fish trends - Touting “trash fish,” growing anti-GMO sentiments and using spices from around the world are some of the top trends that will dominate U.S. restaurant seafood menus in 2016. That’s according to Chicago-based Technomic, a research and consulting firm servicing the food and foodservice industry.

Notably, consumers’ anti-GMO stance will likely cause U.S. restaurants to shy away from featuring GMO salmon, which was approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration. Technomic said American seafood lovers already have convinced most of the major U.S. grocery chains to commit to not selling genetically modified salmon, and are likely to urge restaurant chains to follow suit.

“Whatever the science says, many consumers have made up their minds: no genetic tinkering with their food,” Rita Negrete, senior editor at Technomic, wrote in a recent blog post.

The “Sriracha effect” will lead restaurants to more frequently pair seafood with spicy flavors from around the world.

And the trend towards using “trash” fish or underutilized species is drawing increasing raves. Chef’s Collaborative began sponsoring “trash fish dinners” a few years ago, raising chef and consumer awareness of the less familiar fish taken as bycatch in their regions. Many chefs also are using suppliers such as Sea to Table, Dock to Dish and individual fishermen.

“The cost is attractive, and it’s a very simple way for these restaurants to feel like they are making a difference with a positive sustainable impact,” said Justin Boevers of FishChoice, which provides an online sustainable seafood sourcing tool.


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