Story last updated at 1/6/2010 - 12:10 pm
As we look back at Alaska's seafood industry over the past year, consider this: 62 percent of our nation's seafood landings come from Alaska, as does 96 percent of all U.S. wild salmon. Globally, Alaska ranks ninth in the world in terms of seafood production. The seafood industry is second only to Big Oil in revenues it generates to state coffers, and it provides more Alaska jobs than oil/gas, mining, tourism and timber combined. Alaska's abundant and sustainable fishery resources are the envy of all other seafood producers, and its fishery management is regarded as a model around the world.
Here are more fishing notables from 2009, in no particular order, followed by my annual "picks and pans":
The 2009 salmon harvest of 162 million fish was the 11th best catch since statehood. Pinks pulled a big no-show in Prince William Sound.
The global recession tamped down all fish prices; cod prices got especially clobbered when lines of credit dried up.
Fishery advocates swarmed visiting Obama officials to urge them to reinstate a ban on offshore oil and gas lease sites located in six million acres of the nation's "fish basket"--Bristol Bay and the eastern Bering Sea.
More local salmon made it onto school lunch trays in Alaska. Alaska pollock was added to the USDA food commodities program.
Three-quarters of the dockside value of Alaska's fisheries continued to go to non-residents.
Halibut prices fell from the $5/lb range of recent years by more than one dollar. Catch limits continued to decline, awaiting entry of new recruits into the fishery. Likewise, the pollock catch was cut to one of the lowest levels in decades.
Bristol Bay had one of its best red salmon runs ever; fishermen were again put on trip limits by overwhelmed processors.
The first item made from genetically modified animal materials was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Next to get the nod is likely to be Atlantic salmon, which grow twice as fast as normal. No labeling is required alerting consumers that foods are genetically altered.
Exxon finally sent checks to "oiled" plaintiffs 20 years after the big spill in Prince William Sound. Most checks were cut by more than half after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the punitive damages award was excessive.
Yukon fishermen got no fishing openers for king salmon, meaning another winter of no money and Katrina-like responses by the State.
Kodiak became home to one of the biggest boat lifts in the world.
Fishing net recycling programs were a huge success at Naknek, Dillingham, Petersburg, Kenai and Cordova. It kept thousands of pounds of old nets out of local landfills.
For the first time the Environmental Protection Agency put the brakes on fossil fuel emissions from U.S. power plants. The EPA will set controls for coal- and oil-fired power plants by November 2011. Alas, most of the pollutants in Alaska waters come from Asian power plants.
The farthest north global soccer competition was held in Cordova as a way to recognize the hundreds of seafood workers that come to town each summer. Processors fielded six teams, and Ocean Beauty's Team Mexico took home the trophy.
Fishing still tops the list of most dangerous jobs, with a fatality rate 26 times higher than that of all US workers.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council began streaming its meetings live over the internet.
The feds announced a new national policy for marine aquaculture in waters from three to 200 miles offshore. They also set policy claiming catch shares as the best tool for fisheries management.
Fish Picks and Pans for 2009
Best fish cheerleaders: ASMI
Best fish feeders: Sea Share
Best fish eco-fuel: algae
Best fish PR person: Sheela McLean/NOAA Fisheries in Juneau
Biggest fish fiasco: Cook Inlet Legislative Salmon Task Force. Not even a report?
Best fish outreach & materials: Alaska Sea Grant
Best fish writers: Margie Bauman, Bob Tkacz
Scariest fish story: ocean acidification
Best back to the future for fishing boats: sails
Biggest fish snub: Pebble Mine CEO, Cynthia Carroll
Biggest fish food fight: Alaska spending $20 million on foreign fish feed for salmon hatcheries when over 200,000 tons is made instate each year.
Biggest fish boom: Turning Alaska's 3 billion pounds of fish byproducts into oils, nutraceuticals, biofuels, etc.
Best "eat fish" ambassador: GAPP (Genuine AK Pollock Producers)
Friendliest fishing town: Cordova
Best fish teaching tool: Young Fishermen's Summit/Sea Grant
Best fish bash: Symphony of Seafood
Best fish icons: Alaska's Bering Sea Crabbers
Best fish story of 2009: Calling Arctic waters off limits to commercial fishing until more research is done.
This weekly column focusing on Alaska's seafood industry began in 1991, and it now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A spin off, Fish Radio, airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic and social importance of Alaska's fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world.
Happy New Year and thanks for your continued support of fishing news!
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around Alaska. Welch lives in Kodiak.