Fishing boats line up to be blessed at the Blessing of the Fleet May 7 in front of the Alaska Commerical Fishermens' Memorial in downtown Juneau. The annual Blessing of Fleet, held the first Saturday of every May since 1991, heralds the beginning of the summer fishing season by remembering those lost at sea and offering blessings to those fishermen setting out. Musicians at this year's event included the Gastineau Strummers and the City of Juneau Pipe Band (shown). The Fishermens' Memorial was built in 1995 to honor the commercial fishermen and women who have died and to provide a quiet place for remembrance and reflection.
Story last updated at 5/11/2011 - 12:38 pm
Chinook salmon make up less than one percent of Alaska's total statewide harvest, but those big kings are the true icon of the salmon fishery.
By far, most of the Chinook salmon catch comes all year round from trollers in Southeast Alaska - 262,000 kings in 2010 at an average weight of 14.47 pounds and average price of $4.05/lb.
The winter fishery just wrapped up there in late April, with a catch of 45,000 kings based on treaty agreements with Canada. Fishery managers said both Chinook harvests and gear on the grounds were up considerably during the six-month season, with catches running 50 percent above the five-year average.
Chinook prices on average were $7.10 a pound this winter, with a high of $8.80/lb in early March. At latest count, about 1,300 trollers are actively fishing in Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries.
The fleet is already back out on the water with the May 1 start of the spring fishery, which targets hatchery kings. That's followed by the summer fishery beginning on July 1 which switches back to catches of treaty Chinook. The commercial catch limit of 218,060 treaty fish this summer is an increase of more than 54,000 king salmon from last year.
Alaska's second largest producing region of Chinook salmon is Bristol Bay, which produced just 31,000 kings last year. Those fish, which weighed just under 15 pounds on average, fetched just 98-cents a pound. It's all in the handling....
For the first time in three years, Alaska Chinook will face market competition from West Coast fish. The coast-wide Chinook catch is pegged close to 330,000 fish, nearly triple last year's take and an increase from just 25,000 king salmon in 2009.
Those fisheries started May 1, and all reports say it's been slow going so far. Seafood Trend's Ken Talley said if the king salmon come in on target, West Coast trollers would see their payday increase 187 percent over last year.
HERRING HURRY UP AND WAIT
Togiak in Bristol Bay is home to Alaska's largest roe herring fishery and the big run of fish could arrive any day. Seiners and gillnetters will compete for nearly 25,000 tons of roe herring this season, down just slightly. Fishery manager Tim Sands said six buyers are expected to purchase roe herring at Togiak, similar to last year.
In 2010 the average price for Togiak herring was $150 per ton, with a value of $3.8 million to 61 Togiak permit holders. Prices are based on fish roe, as a percentage of body weight, with 10 percent as the minimum.
Alaska's most lucrative roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound wrapped up with a catch of nearly 19,500 tons taken by 48 seiners. Roe counts averaged a robust 13.3 percent, and while there is still no word on price, it is unlikely to be anywhere near the $730/ton averaged last year.
Virtually all of Alaska's roe herring goes to Japan where seafood trade has been knocked akilter by the recent earthquake and tsunami. At Kodiak, for example, roe herring prices were reported at $175/ton, down from $425/ton last year.
Alaska roe herring fisheries can continue all the way up the coast to Nome. The statewide harvest last year topped 50,000 tons with a value of nearly $20 million to fishermen.
Seawater is now warming the federal Ted Stevens Research Institute in Juneau. Last month the 66,000-square-foot building turned off its two oil fired boilers and turned on a new heat pump system fueled by recycled seawater.
"We are now using zero gallons of fuel," said facility manager John Cooper.
"There two 5 million BTU boilers in this room, and it is completely quiet," he told KTOO.
As a marine research lab, more than 600 gallons of seawater per minute circulate through giant holding tanks, which then drain into troughs on the floor. All of that water gets pumped into the heat pump system from which heat is extracted. Cooper compares it to reverse refrigeration.
"When the refrigerator is on, there is always warm air coming out of the back of it. In this case, we are taking that and using it to heat the building. And the cold that is inside the building is what we are getting rid of," he explained.
The seawater recycling system was designed by Jim Rehfeldt of Alaska Energy Engineering and installed by in-house maintenance staff.
The two year project, which cost about $500,000, estimates annual savings in fuel costs at $130,000, meaning a five year payback or sooner if oil prices remain high.
Rehfeldt is now working on a similar seawater recycling system for the NOAA marine research facility in Kodiak. The seawater heat recovery system produces enough energy to heat 60 homes year round, according to a federal write up about the project, and could be used as an energy recovery model throughout the U.S.
An iPhone app from Nofima can evaluate the freshness of fish. The item, which is designed to evaluate the shelf life of whole, gutted fresh fish, was unveiled and demonstrated last week at the European Seafood Show in Brussels.
Users simply input fish odor, texture, and appearance of the eyes, skin and gills and a "freshness" result appears immediately. The app, which can be used throughout the seafood distribution chain, is based on the standardized Quality Index Method developed by European researchers that is used worldwide. The "How fresh is my fish" app is free and available in 11 languages. Find it at itunes.apple.com/app/how-fresh-is-your-fish/id431891732.
CATCHES PREDICT 'QUAKES?
Many fishermen in Japan believe unusually large hauls of squid might foretell major earthquakes. Japan newspapers report that squid catches nearly quadrupled in the coastal regions hardest hit by the March 11 earthquake, and history points to similar large catches prior to massive 'quakes in 1995 and 1946. Scientists said catches of cod, horse mackerel and other fishes also surged, suggesting links between animal behavior and earthquakes.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.