Story last updated at 10/31/2012 - 2:26 pm
Sea otters and the Arctic are two focal points for Alaska's top fishing group at both state and federal policy levels.
United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation's largest industry trade group representing nearly 40 organizations. At its recent annual meeting, UFA outlined several of its policy watches prior to the legislative session; the group also gave out awards and made a job offer.
UFA is working closely with state and federal overseers to craft a management plan for exploding populations of sea otters in Southeast Alaska. The mammals, which were reintroduced to the region in the 1950s, are feasting on fishermen's shellfish catches and completely wiping out stocks in prime areas. Sea otters are protected under the Endangered Species Act and may only be hunted by Alaska Natives for traditional uses.
"I think there are opportunities for Alaska Natives to more readily use sea otters in their art, and there also is the need for a management plan," said UFA executive director Mark Vinsel. "One thing that is lacking in the U.S. policy is consideration for exploding species. That is a situation that all parties see happening here with sea otters in Southeast Alaska."
UFA also is closely tracking new rules and provisions being debated by Congress within the 2010 Coast Guard Reauthorization Act. UFA also backs development of a deep water port in the Arctic and increased presence by the USCG at "high latitude" regions.
"As more commerce is going on up north, the Arctic and North Pacific is the place to be. We need the Coast Guard there to help with enforcement and response capabilities," Vinsel said.
The fishing group also maintains an ongoing dialog with Alaska mining interests.
"UFA has had a long standing position against Pebble Mine, and we also currently are in opposition to the Chuitna Mine's plan to basically obliterate a salmon stream," Vinsel said. He pointed to the Kensington Mine near Juneau as an example of good communication benefiting both industries.
"There was opposition from local fishing groups, but they were able to work out their concerns in the planning stages of the Kensington Mine and ended up with changes that accommodated those concerns. That is the way both industries can move forward successfully," Vinsel said.
Other highlights: UFA awarded Ray Riutta its Man of the Year award. Riutta is stepping down as director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute after 10 years.
"If we had a title of UFA 'Man of the Decade' that's probably what it would've been," Vinsel said. "During his time virtually all of the Alaska species that ASMI represents have really carved out their territory in the world markets and Ray is a big part of that."
UFA Hall of Fame honors went to John Winther and Eric McDowell, both who passed away this year. The Fishermen of the Year award went to Alaska scallop harvesters and industry advocates, Jim and Mona Stone.
UFA also offered the job of executive director to Julianne Curry of Petersburg. Vinsel is leaving the position but will remain as UFA administrator. Curry has two weeks to decide if she will take the UFA job. http://www.ufa-fish.org/index.htm
Shellfish growers need seed - Blue mussels, oysters and the need for seed top the agenda for Alaskan shellfish growers when they gather for workshops, training and annual meetings next week in Ketchikan.
Alaska's aquaculture industry continues to grow slowly but steadily in Southeast and Southcentral regions, primarily for farmed oysters. So far 67 farms are permitted but only 29 are producing. About 900,000 Alaska oysters were sold last year, valued at $500,000.
A new focus for growers is blue mussels, which will field tested in a state backed pilot project at Kachemak Bay near Homer.
"Mussels from Kachemak Bay are just incredible, so I'm really looking forward to this," said Ray RaLonde, a Sea Grant aquaculture specialist and technical advisor for the project. "There is a huge demand for mussels in the U.S., and there is a shortage - we have to buy our mussels from Canada or elsewhere in the U.S."
One big challenge will be keeping the tasty mussel crop away from sea otters. RaLonde said the project will test wire meshed netting to foil the pests.
"At a world aquaculture conference they showed netting used for marine pen reared fish and it is shark proof. So the hope is that our otters won't be able to get through it," RaLonde said.
Oysters are by far Alaska's biggest bivalve crop, and the small industry is poised for expansion. The biggest hurdle RaLonde said is getting enough seed to start them off.
"We can't get enough seed and neither can the entire West Coast, because the hatcheries in Washington that produce most of the seed have been hammered with ocean acidification problems, and the oyster larvae aren't surviving," RaLonde said.
Ketchikan's new Oceans Alaska Center has built an oyster starting facility, and is growing geoduck larvae seed as well. The Alutiiq Hatchery at Seward also plans to begin doing seed soon. The ultimate goal, RaLonde said, is to "close the loop" in Alaska.
"We've got to move our production away from reliance on Outside sources. But we are in a transitional phase right now and it is not an easy time for farmers to make adjustments," he said. "Industry wide, we are trying to help each other out as much as we can. We're at that stage now where we want to raise the whole ship."
Shellfish workshops and training sessions begin Nov 7-8; the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association annual meeting is Nov 9. All events are at the Cape Fox Lodge in Ketchikan. http://seagrant.uaf.edu/map/workshops/2012/shellfishtechnology/index.php
Eat it all! Some of the best and healthiest parts of a fish don't make it into the American diet. An eBook called "The Whole Fish - How Adventurous Eating of Seafood Can Make You Healthier, Sexier, and Help Save the Ocean" shows simple ways to use fish heads, skins and bones in appealing new ways.
"Omega 3s increase serotonin levels and they really do work as aphrodisiac," said author Maria Finn. "Plus fish adds healthy vitamins and minerals, so it actually does help increase your sexual desire and sensitivity."
Finn is a former Homer fisherman who said her whole fish philosophy stemmed from years of field work with Fish and Game.
"When I was on the Yukon delta I worked with a lot of Yup'ik people at their fish camps. They showed me how to use the whole fish - the heads, the eggs and milt, the bones, and what they didn't use was pickled or fed to the dogs," she said.
Now Finn lives near San Francisco where using the whole animal is the trend in high end restaurants.
"It's considered very environmentally friendly and it shows respect for the animal - it's not just taking a few prime cuts and tossing the rest away. So you might get pig face pasta here or trotters," she said.
Finn has seen salmon bellies featured as entrees, salmon roe as garnishes, tuna heart grated over pasta, and salmon bones ground with salt to provide calcium and omega 3s. The eBook has recipes and also draws attention to sustainability issues and food webs.
The Whole Fish: How Adventurous Eating of Seafood Can Make You Healthier, Sexier, and Help Save the Ocean is available for $2.99 at TEDbooks.com or Amazon.com.
American Seafoods Company is accepting applications for community grants. The deadline to submit applications to the ASC advisory board is November 12. Since 1997, the company has granted over $1 million to rural Alaska organizations and programs. Grant applications are available online at www.americanseafoods.com, or by contacting Kim Lynch at email@example.com.
Congrats, Ray! - Ray RaLonde merited the 2012 National Sea Grant Superior Outreach Program Award "for his extensive work with Alaska Native tribes, shellfish farmers, coastal communities, and state agencies in (1) enhancing safe harvest of shellfish statewide and (2) diversifying the economies of isolated coastal communities through mariculture."
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.