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Alaska Fish Factor: Salmon Fishermen Offered Rebates on Pingers for Whale Protection

09 May 2016
 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 - Alaska salmon fishermen can get rebates on pingers aimed at keeping baleen whales away from their gear. The six inch, battery operated tubes are tied into fishing nets and transmit animal-specific signals every five seconds to alert the animals to keep their distance.

“Pingers can be really helpful to alert the whales to something in front of them so you have less entanglements,” said Kathy Hansen, director of the Southeast Alaska Fisheries Alliance.

SEAFA received a $25,000 Hollings Grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to fund the pinger program, which offers a $25 rebate for up to five pingers per permit per vessel on units purchased after May 1.

The pingers can retail for up to $100 each and the cost can deter fishermen from buying them.

“A Southeast gillnet that is 200 fathoms long needs at least five,” Hansen said, adding that the rebates apply to any Alaska salmon fishery.

The pinger signal in this case signal is aimed primarily at preventing entanglements of baleen whales.

“Baleen whales don’t have sonar like people think all marine mammals have. They actually just hear,” Hansen said. “So the pinger emits a noise at a frequency that is not harmful and doesn’t scare the whales – it just lets them know something is there.”

Baleen whales are the largest animals on earth, yet they feed on the smallest creatures in the ocean. They are named for the long plates of baleen which hang like flexible teeth of a comb from their upper jaws, which strain huge volumes of ocean water through their plates to capture
tons of zooplankton, crustaceans, and small fish. The whales also have blowholes; both features distinguish them from toothed whales.

Hansen said she has used pingers in her salmon driftnet gear for six over years and swears by them.
“You must be sure they are not spaced too far apart or the whales think there is an opening between them,” she advised.

She added that the pingers do not act like a “dinner bell” for whales, nor do they scare away the salmon.

Gear encounters by whales are rare in Alaska, with 130 large whale entanglement reports on the books since 1998. According to NOAA’s Protected Resources Division.

Find rebate forms from the SEAFA website and wherever pingers are purchased. Hansen said it’s “first come, first served until the money runs out.”

Kodiak runs on fish - Kodiak ranks second in the U.S. for volume of fish landings and third for value. Now residents want to make sure new ways of running the fisheries sustain that status.

Federal fishery managers are crafting a new management plan designed to give about 70 Gulf trawlers better tools to reduce halibut and salmon bycatch in their groundfish hauls. It will include some form of catch shares for to 25 different fish species, which together make up over 80 percent of Kodiak’s annual landings.

To provide guidance, a new economic impact report breaks down how the entire seafood industry plays out throughout the Kodiak Island Borough, which includes six outlying villages for a total population of 14,000 residents.

The draft report done by the McDowell Group gives a 10 year snapshot starting in 2005. Some highlights:

Nearly 500 million pounds of seafood worth $150 million to fishermen was delivered to Kodiak Island in 2014.

The seafood industry accounted for 38 percent of total Island employment.

Kodiak’s eight seafood processors handle year-round deliveries of fish caught by boats from all parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea, and employ the highest percentage of local residents of any Alaska region.

Fish landings in Kodiak have trended up over the last decade, increasing 34 percent since 2005. Groundfish deliveries of cod, rockfish and flounders have doubled, and pollock landings have increased by 162 percent.

The value of salmon permits held by Island residents has increased substantially over the last decade, while permit ownership has dropped. In 2005, 398 Kodiak residents owned permits worth about $11 million. Ten years later, local ownership was at 289 permits valued at $29 million.

The study concludes that any management policies or priorities that change the volumes or values of fish harvested and processed in the Kodiak borough will have direct, indirect and induced economic effects over time.

Fish tech training to go - Fish Tech courses have gone mobile with iPads that allow students to start their training anywhere.

The waterproof iPads are the latest tool offered by the University of Alaska/Southeast to prepare students for jobs as fish culturists, hatchery operators, field technicians and managers.

“You don’t need accessibility to the internet because all the lectures, videos, readings and exams are preloaded on the IPad. So you could be out at sea and still have access to your classes,” said Ashley Burns in Kodiak, one of six UAS outreach coordinators also in Bethel, Valdez, Petersburg, Homer and Dillingham.

The first iPad course is an introduction to fisheries of Alaska, and other classes will be added throughout the year. Each course earns credits toward occupational endorsements, certificates and other degrees.

Jobs in Fish Tech fields are readily available due to a shortage of trained workers in Alaska, a trend expected to last for at least a decade.

“Our program works heavily with the industry to make sure that our classes being offered are exactly what they are looking for in potential employees,” Burns said, adding that registration for new students is open now.

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