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PUBLISHED: 5:39 PM on Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Ambitious project aims to reveal data about vessel crew members
It's hard to account for a work force if you don't know who or where it is.

An ambitious new project aims to craft a system that will provide labor data on the thousands of crew members who work aboard Alaska's fishing fleets.

Best 'guess-timates' peg the number of deckhands at 20,000. Because fishermen are contract workers, no wage reports are collected by the state. Crew licenses are required, but they don't tell where or when a crew member fished, how much they earned, or if they even fished at all.

"Without that information, communities really don't have any basis for accurately estimating the effects of fishing. It makes it difficult for both harvesters and communities to apply for economic assistance or other state and federal programs," said Mike Catsi, executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal League. SWAMC has led initiatives to get fish harvesters counted for several years.

The project will use a $150,000 one-time appropriation to develop a system to collect and input the new information into a data base at the AK Dept. of Fish and Game. It will be able to use electronic landing reports and fish ticket systems already in place.

The first step will be to hire a contractor and begin scoping meetings around the state, said Geron Bruce, deputy director of the state commercial fisheries division.

"I want the stakeholders to have an advisory role in what questions we ask, how we shape the study and what outcomes we want. From the beginning, everyone needs to feel that we are moving forward together with a common purpose," Bruce said.

Two advisory groups will be formed during the summer, Bruce said. One will comprise members of various state agencies; another will include fishing stakeholders representing different regions and gear groups.

"We really need to broaden the discussion to include more regions," said Bruce. "Basically it has been focused in the Westward Region, particularly dealing with fishery rationalization programs, either existing or proposed ones. For other regions, it's not even on their radar screen. But it's going to be a statewide program and will affect everyone."

"Given the wide variety of fisheries and areas around the state, it will take some time to sort through all the issues," said division director John Hilsinger. "We need a system that works in Bering Sea crab fisheries as well as skiff fisheries on remote rivers."

There is general agreement that the harvester workforce is an important part of the employment and economic picture, and better data is needed. But there is no consensus yet on how, who or where to get it.

"Both the State and the fishing industry would be best served to take their time to design a program that works best for everyone," Bruce said. "It might put a year or more lead time before it is in place, but it will be time well spent."

Solar tenders?

Alaska fishermen, processors and small businesses can benefit from two federal grant programs aimed at reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Nearly $16 million is available nationwide through the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Rural Development Program.

One grant helps fund renewable energy projects that include geothermal, biomass, wind and solar energy. That could be a natural for fishing tenders, said Dean Stewart, program director of the Alaska USDA Rural Development Program.

"They could use solar energy or some other type mounted on their vessel while they are anchored up in the fishing grounds rather than using diesel generators. Solar panels also can power ice machines," he said.

A second grant is designed for energy efficiency projects, such as improving insulation in fish holds or improving fish chilling systems.

Both grants cover up to 25 percent of the eligible costs of the project. The maximum grant for renewable energy projects is $500,000 and 250,000 for energy efficiency projects. Deadline to apply is June 16. Contact the USDA Rural Development agency in Palmer at (907) 761-7722 or online at www.rurdev.usda.gov/ak/.

Feed me Omegas!

Omega 3's have become one of the most popular food additives due to a whole host of health benefits. Last year, omega-3 fatty acids were added to 250 food products, from eggs to orange juice, and the list is growing fast.

National surveys show that baby boomers are very aware of the benefits of omega 3's and are adding more to their diets. But most young parents don't know how essential omega's are to developing babies. According to a Harris Interactive poll of 1,220 U.S. parents, 60 percent were not aware of the benefits of so called DHA omega's to their children's health.

DHA is one of two key omega 3 fatty acids essential for brain and eye development. It is especially important between birth and five years of age, when the brain increases nearly three-and-a-half times in weight. Leading authorities recommend 150 milligrams daily for kids aged one through five.

Omega-3's cannot be produced by our bodies and must be obtained from foods. All omegas are not created equal - the critical DHA compound is found only in seafoods, especially wild salmon, or in fish supplements.


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