Story last updated at 6/27/2012 - 2:07 pm
If you had your life to live over again, would you choose a career in commercial fishing?
That is one question in a survey circulating around Kodiak that aims to reveal a more social view of the fishing life, and how the occupation and lifestyle have changed over two decades.
The survey, being sent to a random sample of 700 permit holders and 400 crewmen in all fisheries, is part of a two year project by Dr. Courtney Carothers, an assistant professor at UAF's School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Carothers said the project came about during her research at the University of Washington when she lived for a year in rural Kodiak villages.
"I heard many stories about "big changes" in fisheries, such as limited entry, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, low salmon prices, halibut IFQs - and how these changes affected access to fishing livelihoods," Carothers said. "I wanted to understand how these big changes and transitions are perceived in Kodiak, the most diverse fishing port in Alaska, and how these changes are linked to the well-being of fishing families and communities."
The Kodiak survey asks fishermen to rank how satisfied they are with various aspects of fishing and compare it to 20 years ago.
Some examples: Do you feel more satisfied with the safety of their job, the adventure or the ability to earn money? Would you encourage a young person to get into fishing, why or why not?
A sampling of responses include: "We're so diversified here, we don't depend on one species of fish, so I think that's saved us," ... "The Kodiak community is still very tied to the resources. If the fish are here, you are working" ... "We're an aged, aging fleet. I don't know how many young guys have a cash flow to buy into it." ... "I think we're the center of the universe when it comes to commercial fishing."
The fishermen's surveys combined with local interviews will provide data and perspectives that are often bypassed by fishery managers and decision makers.
"Fisheries managers are increasingly called to include social measures of fishing community health and well-being," Carothers explained. "By assessing and documenting fishing changes in Kodiak, we will contribute insights into how those changes are linked to the well-being of individuals, families, and the community as a whole. We will share that with managers to try and get more input into some of the social dimensions of fishing policy."
Fish leader - The search is on for a new executive director at United Fishermen of Alaska. After five years at the helm Mark Vinsel is shifting to a new role as chief administrator, the position he was originally hired for 12 years ago. UFA is the nation's largest commercial fishing trade group representing 37 different fishing groups and businesses
Part of the reason for this change is that over the past five years there has been a big proliferation in the number of agencies and issues that have the potential to affect a wide range of fisheries," Vinsel said.
"Things like EPA discharge requirements, national ocean policies, new Coast Guard regs coming into place for fishing vessel safety ... the devil is in the details, and we have to pay a lot of attention so that we end up with things that make sense for fishermen in Alaska."
Vinsel said the UFA position will be advertised at the end of summer so more fishermen have a chance to apply.
"The more someone knows about fisheries, the better equipped they are to handle the UFA job," he said.
Vinsel said UFA is closely tracking national and state issues that affect Alaska's seafood industry, with a close eye on resource development. UFA also heads up a relief mission for fishing communities hurt by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Most recently, UFA raised over $380,000 to assist Japanese fishing communities hurt by last year's tsunami.
Salmon shape shifters - It used to be that Alaska salmon went to world markets frozen whole or in cans. Those are still important products, but the fish has taken on different forms that are more trendy today.
A six year review of Alaska production shows that canned salmon accounted for just 20 percent of the pack in 2011, down from 26 percent in 2010 and 30 percent in 2009. Nearly two-thirds of all pink salmon caught last year was sold frozen mostly to export markets.
Ten percent of Alaska's salmon pack last year was turned into pricier fillets, an all-time high. For sockeyes, fillet production has doubled since 2007, from 15 to 30 million pounds.
The state Dept. of Revenue/Tax Division tracks wholesale volumes and prices for six salmon forms by region throughout each year. Sales from January through April show the average price per case of canned sockeye talls at nearly $190, an increase of about $45 at the same time last year on similar volume. Canned pinks at $96 is an increase of $18 per case.
Wholesale prices for fresh Chinook dipped by $1.37 to $9.23/lb, likely due to more kings this year coming from the west coast. Likewise, frozen kings were down a dollar to $3.10.
To the contrary - frozen sockeyes were fetching $3.29 through April, up from $3; and chums topped $2 a pound.
Wholesale prices for frozen and fresh fillets dipped a few pennies to $6.25/lb for reds, but increased by nearly 45 cents for cohos to $5.44/lb. Chum fillets at $4.37 were up by more than a dollar from the same time last year.
Alaska salmon roe prices were up and down. On the down side: sockeye roe at $5.25 a pound was a drop from $7 ... pink roe at $6.20 was a drop of more than $3. The ups were coho roe, jumping $3 to $9.90 a pound, and the big favorite: chum roe was selling for $15.44 per pound, an increase of nearly $2 from the same time last year.
Death by sunscreen - All that sun block being slathered on by beach-goers around the world is causing major damage to ocean corals. A study funded by the European Commission revealed that the mix of 20 compounds used to protect skin from the harmful effects of the sun causes rapid bleaching of coral reefs. The World Trade Organization reports that 10 per cent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with nearly 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year. The WTO estimates that up to 6,000 tons of sun screen lotions are released into reef areas each year - and that up to 10 percent of the world's coral reefs are at risk of 'death by sunscreen.'
While Alaska's deep sea corals face threats from ocean acidification, they are safe from sun screens. Unlike tropical varieties, Alaska corals don't form reefs - they grow into dense gardens and can live for hundreds of years. The waters surrounding the Aleutian Islands are believed to harbor the most abundant and diverse coldwater corals in the world.