PUBLISHED: 1:20 PM on Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Winter a busy time for Alaskan fisheries

Salmon will always be the heart of Alaska's fisheries, and that is why many people think of summer as "the fishing season."

But that's not the case.

Winter is when Alaska's largest fisheries get underway each year. On Jan. 1, hundreds of boats with hook and line gear or pots will begin plying the waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for Pacific cod, rockfish and other groundfish. Then on Jan. 20, trawlers take to the seas to target Alaska pollock, the world's largest food fishery with annual harvests topping three billion pounds. Crab boats will soon be out on the Bering Sea in earnest for snow crab, Alaska's largest crab fishery. Late February or early March will see the start of the eight month long halibut and sablefish seasons. March also marks the beginning of Alaska's roe herring circuit, usually at Sitka Sound, and those fisheries will continue for several months all the way up the coast as far west as Norton Sound.

And although wild Alaska king salmon is available from Southeast trollers nearly year round, mid-May marks the official start of Alaska's salmon season with the runs of kings and reds at Copper River. Salmon fisheries take center stage all summer and into the fall. That's followed by another of Alaska's premier fisheries - red king crab from Bristol Bay. And so it goes throughout each year, with many other smaller fisheries occurring as well. In all, more than five billion pounds of seafood crosses Alaska's docks each year, worth more than $1 billion at the docks.

Peeking at some price trends, whitefish prices, especially cod, reached their highest level in years in 2006. The jump stemmed from an increase in global demand, especially in Europe; price boosts were also prompted by widespread publicity about the health benefits of eating seafood. Market watchers predict that unless there is a big disruption in supply for major species, of which none is predicted, fish prices this year should remain stable or begin to decline slightly. Analyst John Sackton says buyer resistance to high prices is likely in the U.S. where a weakened dollar will make it more difficult to compete for seafood on the global market.

Biggest buzz word

'Sustainable' was selected as the top word for 2006 by global language trackers, who define it to mean 'self generating, the opposite of disposable.'

The word, long considered a 'green' term, has moved into the mainstream, said the San Diego based Global Language Monitor, which tracks language trends the world over, with a particular emphasis on global English. "Sustainable can apply to populations, marriages, agriculture, economies, and the like," the GLM said.

The term is often applied to Alaska's fisheries, most of which are regarded as models for good management. Alaska salmon, pollock, halibut and sablefish are 'certified' as being well managed, and cod and crab could soon merit an 'earth friendly' eco-label as well. It comes at a fortunate time for Alaska's seafood industry, as mega corporations like Wal-Mart and others the world over have pledged to only purchase seafood that comes from well managed fisheries.

Along with sustainable, words like 'organic' and 'local' will continue to be the biggest buzzwords, say food forecasters. In the coming year we'll hear more about 'foods with a conscience', like fair trade chocolates and coffees.

It's tea that's drawing the attention of seafood lovers in Germany. Intrafish reports the seafood industry has teamed with the Berlin-based German Tea Association to tout tea as an ingredient in fish based meals. The group has printed and distributed thousands of recipe booklets. They say the various blends of tea work best with whitefish or shrimp dishes.