The “Graying of the fleet” was the subject of the last State Legislature’s Fisheries Caucus earlier this spring —demonstrating that the aging demographic of Alaska’s fishing fleet is not just a concern for old fishermen sipping coffee at Petersburg’s coastal cold storage sandwich shop or taking tea in their Naknek living room. It’s a state-wide concern with economic ramifications. Melati Kaye has the details.
The Togiak fishing district season opened to all Bristol bay drift boats on Wednesday and both biologists and processors say that the effort there is higher this year than in the recent past. However, the cohos—that characterize the end of the season fishery there—haven’t shown up in numbers yet. Melati Kaye has the details.
The last one for the season: On today’s program, we’ll check in with the Bay’s few remaining fisheries in Togiak and the Nushagak. We’ll hear about the concerns of academics and policy makers in the state over the graying of the fishing fleet and the out-migration of Alaskan permits to the lower 48. And vegetables—could that be another use for fish guts?
On the behalf of the Stewardship Council or MSC, independent certification body, Moody Marine Limited, has awarded MSC certification to three British Columbia pink salmon fisheries.
The three fisheries are located in the Fraser River mainstream and tributaries, the waters north of Vancouver Island, including the Strait of Georgia, Toba Inlet and Jervis Inlet. And the waters east of Queen Charlotte Islands, off the mainland.
Pink Salmon spawn in two-year cycles and BC pink runs return to their natal streams in odd years.
Seine boats catch 90-95 percent of BC’s commercial pink salmon harvest. The remaining 5-10 percent are caught with troll or gillnet gear.
In 2009, the cumulative commercial catch of pinks off the coast BC coast was 13,400 metric tonnes or 29.5 million pounds, according to Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The Marine Stewardship council is an international non-profit organisation set up to promote solutions to the problem of overfishing. They run the only “wild capture fisheries” certification that meet guidelines with both the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization and ISEAL—a London-based association that creates standards to help consumers make socially and environmentally ethical food choices.
Over 250 fisheries are engaged in the MSC program with 126 certified and 131 under full assessment. Another 40 to 50 fisheries are in confidential pre-assessment.Certified fisheries currently land over five million metric tonnes of seafood annually – close to six percent of the total harvest from wild capture fisheries. Worldwide, more than 10,000 seafood products, which can be traced back to the certified sustainable fisheries, bear the blue MSC ecolabel.
There have been many adjectives used to describe the 2011 sockeye salmon season in Bristol Bay. They include STRANGE… DISAPPOINTING… and AVERAGE. KDLG’s Mike Mason looked over the data… spoke to some stakeholders and experts… and filed this report
Leader Creek creates new boat storage and repair yard
For Bristol Bay fishing vessels and tenders looking for more space to store or repair boats in, there’s a new spot in Naknek. In fact, it may be the Northern and western most boatyard in Alaska that can deal with vessels 100 feet and larger.
Leader Creek Seafoods is making available boat storage and repair space in the 8 acres from it’s waterfront to its processing plant.
Norm Van Vactor is the manager of Leader Creek Seafoods’s Naknek plant. He said that while the plant owns the space, they expect to source repairmen locally.
The provisional boat yard was Leader Creek founder John Lowrance’s idea and project of many years. It consists of a long concrete boat ramp with an electric winch at the top. The winch can haul out boats up to 150 by 54 feet in length and breadth and 600 tons worth in weight.
Van Vactor explained that “bunks”—which are essentially heavy duty, narrow trailer beds—can be linked up into trains to haul ever-larger boats.
As per the claim to being the Northern and western most large boat boatyard in Alaska, Van Vactor acknowledges that Kodiak does have a large marine lift that can take boats with deeper keels.
Last winter was the first time the yard was used. Van Vactor said to date, the facility’s cornerstone customer is Crowley Maritime barge services.
To sign up to get hauled out for storage or repair, interested fishermen can visit the Leader Creek Fisheries main office, where there is also a list of available local repairmen.
On today’s program, we’ll hear from biologists about what goes into a season forecast and what might have missed this year, Bob Waldrop of the BBRSDA reflects on some of the projects the association funded this year. We’ll hear about the season was for halibut and sujiko—and tenders, don’t want to take your boat home? There’s a new Naknek yard to store it in.
Roe—or fish eggs—make up four percent of sockeye round weight and eight percent of chum round weight, according to the Department of Commerce’s recoveries and yield table for pacific fish and shellfish.
In Bristol Bay, processors process salmon into various products but their highest profits per pound comes from roe products like sujiko and ikura. Sujiko are salted roe skeins sold mostly in Japan. And some of the most highly priced sujiko comes from wild Sockeye salmon. Ikura is essentially caviar, brined fish eggs that have been pulled out of their skeins. Ikura is mostly sold to eastern European or Russian markets and is much higher priced than sujiko.
With the record catches seen in the Bay in recent years, the possibilities of the roe market are huge.
Last year, with a total harvest of 31 million fish, Bristol Bay sold 850 tons of sujiko to Japanese buyers at $4.53 a pound—that’s more than the wholesale price for frozen and fresh H+G sockeye and only slightly less than the $5.06 offered for frozen sockeye fillets.
Earlier this week, Japanese Trade publication Minato Tsukiji reported that Japanese buyers are expecting this year’s harvest to only yield 550 to 600 tons of sujiko. That’s 63-70 percent the amount sold last year.
However, Minato also reported that Japanese buyers still managed to see a silver lining in this year’s harvest.
At 6.1 pounds, the average female Bay sockeye was larger this year, which resulted in higher roe recovery.
Exporters and Japanese buyers are expected to start price negotiations this week but an initial price of $5 a pound has already been batted around. That’s pretty close to the $4.93 Bristol Bay sujiko sold for last year.
In part, that stable price might have a cultural reason.
Joe Jacobson is the director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s International Program. He says that while demand for other fish egg products has dropped in Japan, sujiko is still a main stay.
“Sujiko is a Japanese item so if demand was to drop off in japan,” he said. “There would be a noticeable difference since there are no other markets.”
Andy Wink is an economic analyst with the McDowell group. He added that as Japan goes about rebuilding after the earthquake they experienced in March, the yen is showing up stronger than the American dollar, since Japan is selling more assets and demanding more yen for investment funds. And for the Alaskan seafood industry, that means that even if Japanese seafood prices stay the same as last year, they will appear higher to American seafood sellers.
“Even if the price doesn’t change from our point of view,” he said. “It will appear cheaper to Japanese buyers.”
Minato reported that Japanese buyers and Alaskan seafood exporters would be settling on a price this week
$1 is the median take-home price posted by Bristol Bay processers
Many processors around Bristol Bay have posted early settlement prices with their fishermen. However these prices are subject to post-season adjustments.
Snopac Products is buying fish at $1 a pound—which matches the price that fishermen are reporting for Peter Pan, Alaska General Seafoods, Yard Arm Knot and Trident Seafoods.
Icicle Seafoods said their early price was 90 cents a pound. Leader Creek fishermen said they received 92 cents a pound for fish that had been bled, chilled and passed down a salmon slide.
Togiak Seafoods is still offering $1.25 a pound for iced and bled sockeye salmon.
Ekok Fisheries said they have not posted a price yet.
These prices do not include bonuses for chilling fish. And as mentioned before, these prices are subject to post-season adjustments.
Veteran bay fishermen, like BBRSDA boardmember, Chris McDowell who fishes on the F/V Sumo, say it’s been almost a decade since the Bay has seen such high prices.
“The starting base price of a dollar, as far as I know, we haven’t seen that since the mid-1990. It’s been quite some times since we’ve seen a dollar.
The Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association has tracked fishermen’s reported price per pound from 2006 to 2010 with the exception of 2007.
According to the prices they’ve received from AIFMA member fishermen, the average price offered in 2006 was 60 cents a pound with Leader Creek leading the pack at 77 cents a pound. This relationship stayed true in 2008, with an average price of 68 to 71 cents a pound and Leader Creek offering 95 cents a pound. In 2009, most processors offered 70 cents a pound and in 2010, the average price stood at 95-97 cents.
In a year of lower catch numbers, a good price helps, says McDowell, who helps put together the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Statewide Salmon Price Report.
“This wasn’t a great season but it was nice to see a good strong price, it’s nice to see that the elasticity back in play”
With some sockeye still trickling into Bristol Bay it looks like the total run will get to about 30-million fish. That’s significantly below the preseason forecasts. KDLG’s Mike Mason examined how the forecasts are generated and what might be to blame for the smaller than forecast run this year.
In an effort to diversify Alaskan seafood’s marketing base to include countries other than Japan, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is running a two week tour of the state for …chefs!
A group of Michelin star chefs from some of the most prominent restaurant from regions of France are visiting processors and communities in Kodiak, Anchorage.
Next week, Celebrity chef form the United Kingdom will be filming two episodes of his prime time morning television show.
Joe Jacobson is the director of ASMI’s international marketing program.
He says it is important to let people taste the difference between Alaskan wild caught salmon and salmon from other regions or raisedwith aquaculture. But even more important, especially for Alaskan salmon, is the environmental and cultural story of the product…and that is best understood as an experience.
As drift boats start filling storage yards around the Bay and setnetters head to the airport, the question weighing on fishermen and processors’ minds is what will the base price for Bristol Bay sockeye be? KDLG’s Melati Kaye looked into some of the cultural and market factors that go into that question and filed this report.
And now for a moment in the sunshine—with Salmon Camp—Local middle and high school students spent some time at the Wood River counting towers recently learning what goes into daily run summaries and pre-season forecasts.KDLG Fisheries Reporter Melati Kaye tagged along and filed this report.
Facing the season’s ever shrinking number of fish per set late last week, many fishermen and processors began to cut their losses….by pulling their boats out of the water and sending deckhands and cannery workers home. Melati Kaye stopped by the King Salmon airport last week to see the first human effects of a fish run that came in earlier and smaller than expected.
John Sackton is editor of Boston-based Seafood News.
He says that this initial price is just an opening offer. The price is only likely to be settled in three to four weeks when Japanese buyers and packers contracted to move the fish across the Pacific Ocean finish their price negotiations.
Though the Bristol Bay Sockeye run and harvest are expected to come in short, Minato reports that Japanese buyers said their buying price was not likely to increase.
The reasons the buyers cited were speculation that Japanese demand would decrease this year and that there was less processing capacity in the country after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. They also pointed to the 6-thousand tons of last year’s fish from Russia and the Fraser River left in cold storage.
Minato added that the falling price of Norwegian farmed salmon and the re-introduction of Chilean farmed salmon into the markets as factors that would affect the dressed product price of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon.
This August 150 to 160-thousand tons of Chilean farmed salmon is due to be shipped.
Minato puts Japan’s annual consumption of sockeye at 40-thousand tons with 20-thousand tons being contributed by fisheries in Russia and North America each.
Troopers say that they issued 120 tickets in the Bay this season through July 11th.
Sergeant Brent Johnson is the supervisor of the Bristol Bay Alaska Wildlife Troopers. He says that as of July 11th, troopers had issued 100 mandatory court case citations in the Eastside Districts of Naknek-Kvichak, Egegik and Ugashik.
However, Johnson added that many of those citations were for boats with dual permits so the number of citations may increase.
The last few days that Johnson is referring to is the week of July 8th. Mandatory court case citations are given for fishing without a permit, fishing during a closed fishing period or in closed waters.
Johnson said that this year, most of the citations were for fishing in a closed period or waters. He added that 35 to 45 of those citations came in the last week on the Naknek-Kvichak District’s south or Johnson Hill Line—when 650 boats moved into the district. The Nushagak and Togiak districts had a less obviously deviant fishing season—with only twenty citations issued as of July 11th. Johnson said that some of those citations included sport fishing violations
Here’s a piece Fisheries Reporter Melati Kaye put together that remembers a prolific man who has been in the Nushagak district fishing fleet since the 70s. Chuck ‘Croc’ Raymond was part of Dillingham’s ‘gypsy fleet’—a radio group known for their parties and antics.
Award-winning writer and lifelong angler Paul Greenberg visited Dillingham last week as part of a tour of the region sponsored by Trout Unlimited. He spoke with KDLG’s Melati Kaye about his book “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.”
Salmon Season is off and running in Bristol Bay … and the Southwest Alaska town of Dillingham is bustling with activity … much of the energy revolves around the oldest continually operating cannery in the state: Peter Pan. I went on a tour of the Peter Pan Cannery last week and put together this audio postcard.
The man who has led the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation since the beginning is stepping down. He says, he wants to make room for someone new to lead the organization into its next phase. Daysha Eaton has more
Twelve years after Leader Creek Fisheries opened in Naknek, company owner and general operations Manager John Lowrance announced that he would be selling the company to the Canadian fishing Company and bowing out of plant operations in September.
Vancouver based Canadian Fishing Company or Canfisco is the largest packer of canned salmon in Canada. They also produce fresh, frozen and value added salmon, white fish and roe products.
In addition to Leader Creek Fisheries, Canfisco already owns Alaska General Seafood’s Naknek and Ketchikan plants.
The company is a branch of Jim Pattison—Canada’s third largest privately held company, who owns among other things, all Ripley’s Believe it or not franchise, and a total annual revenue of $7.2 billion.
Lowrance says that the new corporate ownership will not change the number of workers at the Naknek plant.
“Really, nothing’s changed,” he said. “We have all the same tenders, fishing fleet and employees (except for the few that chose to do something else). So there haven’t been any changes with regard to our new ownership.”
Lowrance added that even though Canfisco now owns both Alaska General Seafoods and Leader Creek, there was no plan to merge the two companies or to change the work culture at Leader Creek.
“We’ve always been friendly competitors,” he said. “We have very different fleets and different approaches to handling fish in Bristol Bay and that will continue.”
Lowrance entered the Alaska Seafood Industry in 1982 as a cannery worker at Sitka Sounds Seafood in Sitka. After seven years of seasonal work, he went onto do management work for Ocean Beauty. Later he did sales work for Orca Bay Seafoods and Pacific Orin. Seventeen years after first starting in the state’s seafood industry, he founded leader creek with business ideas new to Bristol bay—to only process his fish into frozen headed and gutted product or fillets, to have an all chilled fleet that bled all fish on the grounds.
Today leader creek has the largest (and longest running) fillet program in Bristol Bay. Many give credit to the company for making Bristol Bay a real player in domestic fillet and European smoked salmon markets.
Lowrance said that bringing the company to this point and working with the leader creek fleet has been a priveledge.
“The friendships and whole dynamic of this fishery make it hard to leave,” he said. “But ultimately it’s being left in good hands and it should continue nicely.”
That said, he adds that he was looking forward to retiring
I’ve been doing this for 30 years and it dawned on me that I have an opportunity to change directions being 50-years-old and I’m going to take it. As I’ve been known to say, there’s nothing that says you have to die with your boots on.
Leader Creek Fisheries operations manager Norm Van Vactor will be taking over as General Manager of the Leader Creek plant in Naknek.
This year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts that 38.5 million sockeye to return to Bristol bay watersheds with 28.5 million open to commercial harvest.
What does that mean at a district to district level though?
To get a more in-depth picture of the forecast, KDLG’s Melati Kaye checked in with the region’s area management biologists.
Slim Morstad is the area management biologist for the west peninsula district of Naknek-Kvichak.
9.1 million sockeye are projected to return to his district with 61 % headed to the Naknek river, 30% headed to the Kvichak and the remaining 9 percent headed to the Alagnak.
Morstad said that this pre-season forecast would not indicate inriver fishing in the Naknek Special Harvest Area this season.
“It’s looking good,” he said. “ We’re not projecting any inriver fishing at this time. We’ll keep the fishery in the Naknek section with the drifter and Kvichak setnetter open on the Kvichak side for Kvichak setnetters.”
In the last decade, low Kvichak returns have sometimes forced the department to open up the Naknek Special Harvest Area to meet escapement. Morstad says that numbers haven’t warranted such measures since 2007.
For the 2010 season, fish returned to the Kvichak three days later than the historical average. The board of Fish recommends that the Kvichak fishery be closed and the Naknek special harvest area opened if return numbers are below historical averages as of June 27. But Morstad said that the new genetic data from the Port Moller research fishery allowed him to keep the fishery open with certainty that fish were coming.
“ Without any other information, the regulations would had us going into the Naknek special harvest area and the district would be closed,” Morstad said. “However now, the genetic info from the port moller test fishery and using that info, the 190 fish analysed from the June 23 and 24 samples showed us 29% were ofkvichak origin.”
And in last year’s first genetic analysis from the Port Moller fishery showed 23% of the fish sampled were from the Kvichak drainage, Morstad said. both clear signs that the fish were definitely coming back to the district. And sure enough, by July 7th, a flood of 400,000 in escapement numbers bumped returns to above historical numbers.
The Port Moller test fishery is a research project the Department runs 30 to 130 miles offshore from the South Alaska peninsula town of Port Moller. research vessels run gillnets at 10 points to predict when fish will be arriving in the bay. Genetic analysis of batches of 200 fish at a time also allow the research team to figure out what drainage in the bay the fish come from.
Another good piece of news for the Naknek run this year is that age class stats predict them to come in bigger and fatter, as long as they were met with good ocean conditions as smolts.
Paul Salomone is the area management biologist for the Egegik-Ugashik district. He added an explanation of the number of “oceans” or years fish spend at sea.
“Two ocean fish are smaller than the three ocean fish simply because they haven’t been out for that extra year,” he said. “But that also depends on how well they fared while they were out in the ocean. If they ate well, they could be just as big as the two-threes or one-threes.”
“Its not just a simple factor of age,” he added.
3.28 million or 47 percent of the total Naknek run have spent three years in the ocean.
Meanwhile, Morstad says that age class suggests that the fish returning to the Kvichak will be smaller—which is normal for the river. At 3.6 million of the 5.68 million, the bulk of the sockeye returning to the Kvichak spent two years at sea after a year in freshwater.
On the Alagnak, half the fish returning have spent three years at sea.
Egegik and Ugashik districts
Over on the Egegik drainage, the department forecasts a near term or average run. While on the Ugashik, the forecast predicts an above average return of fish akin to the Egegik river’s 2004 run.
“The total forecast is a little over five million fish—that’s a relatively large one for Ugashik,” Area Management biologist Salomone said.
But before you get your hopes up……Salomone cautions that forecasts are only predictions or as he puts it “paper fish”
“What I say to folks is I can’t fish them until they get here,” he said. “Other than that, the forecast is made more for industry to the guys who do, it’s our research staff, they are really good at getting numbers returning to the bay as a whole but they are a little less accurate at a system by system level.
What can be determined by in-river data, Salomone says is the age class and therefore a first guess at the size of this year’s fish if they managed to feed well in their time at sea.
Over half the return to the Egegik river this year is expected to be two-two fish, meaning fish that spent two years in freshwater and two at sea. Salomone says that one of the indicators for the high two-two return is last year’s age composition.
“There are a lot of two-twos in the system this year and that was related to the two one jack crop we saw at the escapement site last year,” Salomone said. “It’s a strong indicator that the two-twos which are the sibling year class to the two one year class, will come back this year.”
On the Ugashik, the age and therefore size distribution is a little more even. The department predicts 39 percent of the run to be 2-2 fish and 34 percent of the run to be 1-3s.
Salomone thinks the high return of 2-2s is likely because four years ago, the river had a large escapement.
“At 2 million fish, they were much more than the 1.2 million that we think the system needed in it so we’ll see how it goes in a month,” he said. “If it impacted them pretty heavily, they might have seen gone out to the ocean as two freshwater years instead of one. But that’s also driven by environmental variables. Its not a straight guess. We might get some insight if we get a lot of two-ones this year. That would give us the same insight than we got in [the] Egegik river.”
Nushagak, Wood and Igushik districts
The total forecasted return to the Nushagak district is 9.5 million fish with 7.34 million available to harvest by the commercial fishery.
The break-down of returns by river within the district is 6.51 million to the Wood river, 1.64 million to the Nushagak and 1.35 million to the Igushik.
Tim Sands is the department biologist managing the salmon fishery for the Nushagak, Wood and Igushik rivers.
He says that given the high returns to all rivers, there won’t be a need to concentrate harvest to a specific area early in the season.
However Sands says, the number of fish available to harvest from each river—5.21 million for the Wood and 1.04 million on the Nushagak—might force the fishery into the Wood River special harvest area later in the season.
“Because there is such a big difference,” Sands said. “I think there is going to be challenging to harvest all the Wood river fish that we want without harvesting too many Nushagak fish, unless we go into the Wood River”
However, Sands points out, it isn’t that simple. By regulation, fishing in the Wood River special harvest area only occurs if the Nushagak escapement falls below the 340,000 curve.
The Nushagak commercial fishing district sits south of the point when the Nushagak and Wood Rivers split s o it is hard to differentiate which river’s spawning population is getting caught more.
Additionally, Sands points out that Wood River fish are generally smaller and slip through the five and a fourth to five and a half mesh size used by the fleet. So the Wood River reaches escapement sooner than the Nushagak.
Before 2010, 2002 was the last year that the w. river special harvest happened but in previous years, since 2007, there were times when the special harvest area might have been warranted but processor limits and the high river levels from storms helped push fish up the nushagak river, according to Sands.
Meanwhile on the Igushik, Sands says the forecast looks lower than last year.
“The Igushik run at 1.35 million is not as strong as it was last year,” Sands said. “But it is still a strong run and we should be able to harvest over a million fish from there.”
Setnetting on the Igushik started Wednesday. Sands said that the department won’t put in a counting tower and start monitoring escapement until June 22 and 23. He says at that point, they will decided whether to open the river to fishing by the drift fleet.
Matt Jones is the managing biologist for the Department in the Togiak salmon fishery.
He says that at 860,000 sockeye expected, this year’s forecast is a little smaller than last year’s. However, Jones says, there was a 20 percent difference between the department’s forecast for Togiak and the actual run. And this year, the return might swing the other way.
“It’s hard to say, it could come in above forecast,” Jones said. “Even 20 percent larger and then it might be over a million fish.”
Jones said that age composition looked similar to the near term average, with 70 percent of the fish on the bigger end, having spent three years at sea.
660,000 sockeye will be available for harvest in the Togiak district.