"All the guys are running around in their boats getting everything squared away. It's a very busy town this time of year," said Glenn Hollowell, Copper River fishery manager at the hub office in Cordova. More than 500 fishermen hold permits for the famous fishery, and a large portion of the fleet will be out on the water for the May 15 opener.
Early forecasts peg the Copper River king salmon catch at 45,000 fish, slightly higher than last year. That's not the case for the sockeye harvest, projected at 750,000. That compares to nearly two million reds last year, the 3rd largest harvest in 117 years.
As always, weather will play a role in the arrival of the season's heralded first fish.
"That's always a big question," Hollowell said. "We've had a fairly warm winter with a lot of snow and I think we'll have a fairly quick break up. For the past couple of years we've been having later returns and the fish come back all at once, so that's what we're planning for."
And as always, upscale restaurateurs and chefs are jockeying to be the first to offer Copper River salmon to their customers.
"Copper River salmon sets the standard for the entire season," said renowned Pacific Northwest chef Charles Ramseyer, who now runs a restaurant called Wild Salmon in New York City.
No word yet on what prices fishermen might fetch for their prized first catches, which usually start out as jaw droppers. Low catches during last year's first opener pushed prices to a record $6.75 a pound for kings and $4.50 for sockeye salmon.
From now on, Alaska, salmon fisheries will open at various times from Ketchikan to Kotzebue, with many lasting into the fall. State fishery managers project a 2008 Alaska salmon catch of 137 million fish, down from 212 million salmon last year.
The dip stems from anticipated shortfalls in pink salmon runs at the prime producing regions - Southeast Alaska and Price William Sound. Statewide pink salmon catches are projected at 66 million fish, down by more than half from 2007 and the lowest pink catch since 1992. For the big money fish - Alaska sockeye - another huge harvest of 47 million fish is projected; nearly 30 million of the reds will come from Bristol Bay.
Steam me up!
Big boilers, chillers and pumping systems are at the heart of large fish processing plants. Much of the steam they generate can be recaptured and reused as energy - instead of going up the smoke stack.
Large food processing plants generate hundreds of thousands of pounds of steam per hour," said specialist Ed Stoermer of Industrial Energy Systems. "Typically, for industrial steam boilers that means anywhere from 15-25 percent of the energy that is put into the boiler is lost up the stack. That energy can be recovered back into their plant."
To make the steam there is a fuel input of natural gas or oil or coal, but there is a lot of inefficiency with the combustion and the steam production cycle," Stoermer explained. "The energy that is lost is exhausted into the atmosphere."
Whereas all kinds of new technologies are becoming available, improving the efficiency of the equipment on hand is the quickest and easiest way to begin saving energy (and money) now, he advised, especially in remote Alaska.
"The most straightforward approach is to recapture some of the energy that is lost, whether that is heat of compression due to refrigeration systems, or recovering energy from the stacks, or some of the blow down from the boilers on the water side - those are going to be the simplest steps to reduce costs," Stoermer said. "It also reduces an equivalent amount of emissions that are dumped into the atmosphere."
Fish sounds made headlines recently, led by a New York Times story about retirees in Coral Gables, Florida going nuts over loud humming noises reverberating in their waterfront homes all winter. The City was getting ready to shell out big bucks to engineering firms to solve the noise problem. Turns out - it was mating calls of black drum fish. It was proven by a graduate student who recorded the mating calls and showed how they travel at a low enough frequency to carry through sea walls, into the ground and into the homes.
Another disturber of the peace is the loud grunts and hums of the midshipman fish as it guards its nest, and the tiny cusk eel can sound like a jackhammer. For years the mating calls of cod have wreaked havoc for the Norwegian navy- because they sound so similar to enemy submarines. Poachers in China use hydrophones to locate the nearly extinct croaker, whose bladder sells for up to $60,000.
But overall, not much attention has been paid to fish sounds. Researchers believe fewer than 1,000 sounds have been recorded out of an estimated 30,000 species. It appears, however, that more people are turning an ear to the sea.
Scientists say the underwater soundscape can tell a lot about what's out there - and what they are doing. NOAA Fisheries has reportedly made listening to marine life 'a priority,' the NYTimes said, adding: "Since many fish make identifiable sounds, it offers potential for fisheries research and management. Passive acoustics can help identify breeding grounds and can be used as a tool to assess stocks. Such noninvasive techniques would be a big step forward."
Find the article "What's Making That Awful Racket? Surprisingly, It May Be Fish" at www.nytimes.com . Hear some great fish sounds coming out of Cornell and East Carolina Universities at Dr. Joe Luczkovich's home page or Fish Acoustics home page.