Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Agreement Would Halt Commercial Fishing in Central Arctic Ocean

Officials from 10 countries have reached a legally binding agreement to abstain from commercial fishing in 1.1 million square miles of the Central Arctic Ocean for at least 16 years, while research is conducted to learn more about marine life there. The area is roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea.

The document was signed in Washington, D.C. on November 30 by representatives from the United States, Canada, Norway, Russia, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, China and the European Union, said Scott Highleyman, a member of the U.S. delegation.

Delegates must now undertake a legal and technical review of the agreement’s provisions, and seek final approval of their respective governments to sign the document.

“This precautionary action recognizes both the pace of change in the Arctic due to climate change as well as the tradition of Arctic cooperation across international boundaries,” said Highleyman, who is vice president of conservation policy and programs at Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit entity working to protect the ocean from global challenges.

The agreement will establish and operate a joint program of scientific research and monitoring aimed at improving the understanding of the area’s ecosystem, and, in particular, determining whether fish stocks might exist in this area that could be harvested on a sustainable basis. The agreement envisions the possibility that one or more additional regional fisheries management organizations or arrangements may be established for this areas in the future.

The agreement came two years after the U.S., Canada, Norway, Greenland and Russia issued a declaration that they would voluntarily refrain from fishing in the high Arctic. They also pledged to work toward a binding agreement with non-Arctic nations operating commercial fishing fleets in distant waters. Similar precautionary Arctic fisheries plans were enacted by the U.S. off the northern coast of Alaska in 2009 and by Canada in 2014 in collaboration with Inuvialuit officials. More than 2,000 scientists from around the world, called on Arctic countries in 2012 to take similar precautionary action in the Central Arctic Ocean.

While the initial term of the agreement is 16 years, it is to be automatically extended every five years until science based fisheries quotas and rules are put into place, Ocean Conservancy said.

Value Outlook for Bristol Bay Sockeyes is Relatively Stable

A new market analysis of sockeye salmon produced for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) shows first wholesale prices of all major sockeye product forms increased in 2017, indicating strong demand.

The latest Bristol Bay sockeye harvest was the second largest of the past two decades and resulted in the largest total ex-vessel value since the mid-1990s after adjusting for inflation, but it could have been even better, the McDowell Group said in its 43-page report to the BBRSDA, which represents Bristol Bay’s driftnet fleet.

Limits put on harvests resulted in over-escapement for several river systems, and an opportunity cost to harvesters of an estimated $29.2 million, the report said.

Still early sales volumes of frozen, headed and gutted sockeye produced in 2017 trailed 2016 sales by 31 percent, and selling out frozen inventory ahead of the 2018 season will be critical for pricing prospects next spring.

While future market developments can’t be predicted with total certainty, the value outlook is relatively stable, the report read.

McDowell Group researchers noted that prices of headed and gutted and fillet products have increased faster than canned forms in recent years, resulting in processors canning less sockeye salmon, despite larger harvests. While lower production volume has pushed canned salmon prices upward, this could result in less demand for canned salmon going forward, with the recent spike in harvest value not expected to be followed by a sharp decline, which is what happened in 2014-2015, according to the report.

Frozen fillets and fresh sales have seen growth in recent years, with statewide sockeye fillet production up 63 percent between 2013 and 2016, and may have increased even further in 2017, including sales of fresh headed and gutted sockeye from Bristol Bay up 39 percent to 3.1 million pounds.

The preliminary ex-vessel value of Bristol Bay sockeyes rose 37 percent this year to $210 million, with ex-vessel prices up 34 percent over 2016, while sockeye harvests rose by two percent, according to preliminary data. Assuming static prices, the value of 2017 foregone sockeye harvests in the Bay is estimated at $29 million, the report read.

Global sockeye harvests meanwhile fell five percent, about 20 million pounds, again based on preliminary data.

In preparation for the report, McDowell Group compiled information from the Alaska Departments of Fish and Game and Revenue, including fish ticket data and the commercial operators annual report, in addition to export data from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The complete report is online at

Behnken Honored by Alaska Legislature

Veteran halibut harvester Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) in Sitka, has been honored by the Alaska Legislature for her efforts to protect small boat fisheries and coastal communities.

An honorarium and framed certificate were presented to her during a “Gearing up to 40 years” reception for ALFA late November. The honor comes on the heels of Behnken’s national recognition in 2016 as a “Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood” by the White House.

The reception also celebrated 40 years of ALFA’s leadership in fishery conservation locally and nationally. Behnken, the association’s executive director since 1991, also started ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network, to engage fishermen and scientists in conservation projects.

A former member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Behnken has for years urged all seafood harvesters to share in the responsibilities of sustainability of the resource. Under her leadership, ALFA has been recognized nationally for its role in harvester-led advocacy in support of coastal fisheries and communities.

“Really the accolades belong to the entire ALFA team—staff, board and members—and to the incredible community that supports us” Behnken said. “My inspiration comes from all of you.”

Recruiting Gets Underway for Upcoming Groundfish Season

Recruiters for the At-Sea Processors Association will hold a job fair tomorrow, December 7, at the Alaska Department of Labor’s Anchorage Midtown Job Center to attract crew willing to spend two to three months aboard a catcher-processor vessel during the upcoming groundfish fisheries. Applicants must be pre-registered and present at a seafood familiarization session, and then attend orientations coming up the following week.

Participating companies include Arctic Storm, Aleutian Spray, the Coastal Village Region Fund, Glacier Fish Company and Trident Seafoods. All are members of the At-Sea Processors Association, and participate in groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, whose December meeting is underway at the Anchorage Hilton this week, will release its annual quotas for groundfish harvests in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, and the Gulf of Alaska, during the meeting.

The At-Sea Processors Association is advising applicants that the work averages 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and will start in January, lasting for approximately two to three months. Applicants must understand and be able to speak English, and pass a health, drug screen and criminal background check. Pay is based on a percentage of the catch or case rate depending on the company. Room, board and transportation are provided based upon successful completion of contracts. For more information, call 1-907-269-4775.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

One Section Opened for Eastern Aleutian Tanner Crab

Just one of three sections of the Eastern Aleutian District Tanner crab fishery will open on January 15, based on a survey estimate showing that the number of mature male Tanner crab exceeded the required threshold.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) said that the abundance of mature male Tanner crab in the Makushin/Skan Bay Section is 291,480 crab, which is above the threshold of 45,000 crab required for a fishery opening. ADF&G has set the guideline harvest level at 35,000 pounds.

The survey abundance estimate of mature male Tanner crab in the Akutan Section is 99,178 crab, which is below the threshold of 2,000,000 crab required for a fishery opening.

Likewise, the survey abundance estimate of mature male Tanner crab in the Unalaska/Kalekta Bay Section is 63,848 crab, which is below the threshold of 65,000 crab required for a fishery opening in that section.

Therefore, both the Akutan and Unalaska/Kalekta Bay sections will be closed for the 2018 season. Preseason registration forms for the Makushin/Skan Bay section fishery must be received by ADF&G in Dutch Harbor by December 24.

Preregistration forms are available at the Dutch Harbor office and online at

Global Food Aid Program Introducing Millions to Seafood

The director of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Global Food Aid Program says the program introduced new seafood products to more than 15 million new customers in 2017 with expanding options appealing to everyone from super athletes to the elderly.

The program’s mission, Bruce Schactler reminded participants in ASMI’s All Hands on Deck meeting in Anchorage, is to increase use of Alaska seafood in domestic and international food and nutrition programs by way of education, research and product development. This fills a dual purpose of providing vital proteins in areas where they are lacking in diets and moving large volumes of products from species caught in great abundance, to keep it from being held in inventory.

In previously established domestic and overseas food aid programs, ASMI worked to create more demand for Alaska seafood products in food distribution programs on Indian reservations, emergency food assistance programs and the national school lunch program. The product list now ranges from canned pink salmon and sockeye salmon fillet portions to Alaska Pollock braded fish sticks and portions, and herring fillets. The program began in 2004 with canned pink salmon as its only product.

This year alone, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has purchased 1.8 million pounds of frozen Wild Alaska Pollock whole grain braded fish sticks, and nearly 8 million pounds of frozen wild Alaska Pollock portions, Schactler said.

The addition of wild Alaska salmon fillet portions – both sockeye and coho – to the USDA food basket, will expand the number of underserved populations, including families, children, pregnant women and the elderly, according to Schactler’s report.

Among the latest product promotions is herring in fillet forms.

The program, he said, is perfectly placed to fill the animal protein gap, and an opportunity to incorporate more seafood into menus and people’s meal patterns.

ASMI’s All Hands on Deck Meeting Gets an Upbeat Message

A researcher with Juneau’s McDowell Group says there’s a bright future ahead for Alaska’s seafood industry despite challenges ranging from budget pressures to climate change.

McDowell Group’s Andy Wink told participants in the Alaska Seafood Marketing Industry’s All Hands on Deck meeting in Anchorage, Alaska on November 28 that the cumulative first wholesale value of wild Alaska seafood from 1959 through 2016, based on data from National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, totaled $170 billion. According to Wink that amount is equal to the value of all major professional North American sports teams.

The ex-vessel value of wild Alaska salmon alone from 2011 through 2016 added to $3,513,000,000, and the preliminary ex-vessel value or all commercially caught Alaska salmon in 2017 was $679 million – up 64 percent since 2015, Wick said.

Roe prices tended up this past year, while farmed prices were down, but still remained high, with limited potential to increase farmed supply, Wick said. There was also strong demand for fresh sockeyes, but slower frozen sales early on.

The outlook for Alaska Pollock is up for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands in 2018, and down or maybe flat for the Gulf of Alaska, while the competing supply from Russia is expected to be down six percent in 2018. Pollock, which is available in fillet blocks, surimi, roe and frozen mince, is sold into North American, European, Asian and other markets.

For the year-to-date in 2017 exports were up by one percent in value and four percent in volume. Halibut harvests were up by five percent this year, while wholesale pricing dropped. Black cod year-to-date harvests were up 14 percent, and prices also rose, but the overall value of black cod and halibut is down $143 million since 2011, Wink said.

Alaska cod, which has markets in North America, Europe, Asia and Brazil, has seen its frozen exports down six percent in value and 12 percent in volume for the year-to-date, and the 2018 supply outlook is down significantly in both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, he said.

Rockfish harvests and exports were also down, while Atka mackerel was up.

The All Hands on Deck meeting continues through Thursday, November 30 at the Hotel Captain Cook. Reports given at the meeting will be available online following the event at

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