Every Alaska coastal community is dependent on its fisheries. But care and oversight of the resource has been entrusted to biologists and decision makers from outside the region, or the state.
"The question for years has been why young people from Kodiak or Bethel or Kaliganek or Pelican aren't becoming these fishery scientists?" said Paula Cullenberg, director of the AK Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.
"It's been a great alignment and everyone is so engaged," Cullenberg said. "All the players are working together to make sure Alaska young people can purse careers in fisheries."
The School of Fisheries and Ocean Science at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks was armed in January with $5 million and a mandate from the Rasmuson Foundation to "create a top notch fisheries degree program for undergraduates." (Not just for science - it includes management, policy, business, etc.) SFOS is developing the curricula and making plans for recruiting faculty and students.
The new program should be underway in about a year.
Meanwhile, the AK Department of Fish and Game, facing a near staff crisis due to retirements, this year added a full time position dedicated to recruiting young Alaskans.
"It's not unique to fish and game. It's a national issue," said Debbie Hart, coordinator of the Fish and Wildlife Careers for Alaskans program. "We have an aging work force throughout America and a smaller pool of applicants coming up behind."
Fish and Game also is becoming more directly involved more high school students in partnership with the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska/Anchorage.
Hart said of ADF&G's staff of 1,400 just 60 are Alaska Native, or four percent.
"Fish and Game is throughout Alaska and it is challenging to find people who want to stay long term and are committed to fisheries and marine science.
We have this great resource of people who live there and are experienced and knowledgeable about their surroundings," she said. Nine new fisheries interns are working in the field this summer, Hart said, many on their home turf.
Find more information at the Future Alaskans in Fisheries and Marine Science website at www.sfos.uaf.edu.
Yay for fillets!
Fresh and frozen salmon is more popular than ever, but the product that most consumers want is convenient, easy to cook fillets. That hasn't been lost on Alaska producers.
Looking just at sockeye salmon - it's still only 13 percent of total production, but market analyst Ken Talley of Seafood Trend said that total fillet output in Alaska last year approached 13.5 million pounds, up from 4.6 million in 2004, and a gain of more than 190 percent in just three years.
Most of that - 11.7 million pounds - was frozen sockeye fillets, a 200 percent boost from 2004. Fresh fillet production jumped from 700,000 to 1.7 million pounds, a 143 percent increase.
The fresh fillets have yielded higher market prices. The Alaska Salmon Price Report shows fresh sockeye fillets wholesaling last year at $5.46 a pound, compared to $4.18 in 2005.Frozen fillets jumped to $4.36 a pound, up 35 cents a pound from 2005.
Former fisherman Tommy Gomes calls red sea urchins "California's new gold rush." The red urchins are prized in Japan for their roe, called uni. The delicacy has turned urchins into one of the state's most lucrative seafoods, with harvests of about 10 million pounds valued at more than $80 million a year.
Gomes said he was bothered by the amount of urchin byproducts being tossed in pursuit of the uni.
Welch, who lives in Kodiak, has written about Alaska's seafood industry since 1988.