Story last updated at 11/30/2011 - 1:06 pm
Alaska food banks are the beneficiaries of fish taken as bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska thanks to Kodiak fishermen and local processors.
This fall and winter, the partnership has donated over 5,000 pounds of processed/packaged halibut and salmon to the Kodiak Island Food Bank, and over 10,000 pounds to the Food Bank of Alaska headquarters in Anchorage.
The bycatch to food banks program in the Gulf is an expansion of a retention program authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1994. Federal law requires that species taken as bycatch in trawl fisheries be tossed overboard.
Since then the program has been ongoing in the Bering Sea, and this year Kodiak trawl fishermen and processors asked that Gulf bycatch be added "so good fish would not be wasted," said Jim Harmon, director of Sea Share, the only nonprofit group that focuses on seafood as a source of nutrition for hunger relief.
"The Kodiak fishermen sign up their boats to be able to retain halibut or salmon taken in trawl fisheries that can't be returned alive to the sea," Harmon explained. "They bring it ashore and the plants are authorized to retain it and hold it separately for Sea Share."
Participating processors include Ocean Beauty, North Pacific Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, International Seafoods of Alaska and Peter Pan Seafoods (King Cove). The Kodiak project also allowed for the food to be distributed locally.
"We took as much as our freezers could hold," said Alexander Tsurikov, director of the Kodiak Food Bank. "I had to watch how I handed it out. It went really fast."
Kodiak has reflected the 26 percent national uptick in food bank traffic over the past five years, Tsurikov said.
"I am really thankful to all the people who made the program work. I had given up on it ever happening and I hope it continues. And I am glad the fish is being used instead of thrown back into the ocean," Tsurikov said.
The bycatch to food banks program is what got Sea Share started, but today it's just 10 percent of its seafood pantry. The Northwest Salmon Canners, for example, have donated over 400,000 pounds of canned salmon to help with disaster relief in the Lower 48 and the upper Yukon River. In all, Sea Share has provided over 150 million seafood meals to hunger relief since 1994. For more information, visit www.seashare.org.
Out of sight, out of mind could describe Alaska's seafood industry when it comes to recognition by many policy makers - despite the fact that the industry provides the most private sector jobs, it is second only to oil in terms of state tax revenues, and seafood is Alaska's top export.
To help set the record straight, United Fishermen of Alaska, the nation's largest fishing trade group, has compiled fact sheets that highlight 18 Alaska fishing ports and their contributions to state coffers. The profiles include the number of permit holders and crew, processing jobs, boats home ported, and other economic data for Anchorage, Cordova, Dillingham, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Petersburg, Seward, Sitka, Wrangell, Aleutians West Borough, Aleutians East Borough, Bristol Bay Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough and the Mat-Su Borough.
"UFA feels it is vital to our mission to bring this information out in a way that is clear and useful to help illustrate what the fishing industry brings back to the state of Alaska and its communities," said Arni Thomson, UFA president.
Fishery landings taxes, for example, are split 50/50 between the port where the fish is landed and the state's general fund ($80 million in 2009).
Sitka is home to 605 vessels where 1,100 skippers and crew fished in 2010. Sitka fishermen earned over $40 million at the docks; the community and the state shared nearly $2 million in fish taxes.
At Petersburg, 579 boats are home ported and 28.4 percent of the population goes fishing. Petersburg fishermen hauled in $51 million worth of seafood last year and shared $1.2 million in taxes with the state.
More than 27 percent of Cordova's population goes fishing and the City of Cordova and the State split $1.5 in taxes. At Homer, 493 are home based, and nearly $1.5 million in fish taxes went to the state.
The Bristol Bay Borough and the state split $3.5 million in fish taxes in 2010. Wasilla Palmer and Mat-Su Borough claimed 618 resident skippers and crew who took home nearly $15 million from fishing jobs.
Anchorage ranks number one for Alaska cities with the most resident skippers and crew at more than 1,800.
The Aleutians West Borough, home to Dutch Harbor, ranked first for fish taxes at $3 million paid to the state in 2010.
And while Dutch Harbor ranks high for seafood landings and values, Kodiak by far outpaces all other Alaska ports when it comes to fishing "kaching!"
The estimated income by Dutch Harbor's 92 resident fishermen with 30 local boats was $3.3 million. By comparison, 622 vessels call Kodiak home with over 1,400 permit holders and crewmen. The estimated ex-vessel income by Kodiak residents was $127 million and the port put nearly $2 million into state coffers.
Values for the fishing industry typically use ex-vessel (dock prices) paid to fishermen, but that only represents half the value after the seafood is processed and sent to markets around the world. Find the UFA Fact Sheets at www.ufa-fish.org.
For the first time since it was established in 1914, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association has taken a position on a politically charged development project - the Pebble Mine. PSPA is a trade group representing Alaska shorebased processing companies.
"After careful consideration, we are compelled to oppose development of the Pebble Mine project due to its unique location, size and potential harm. We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with all Alaska industries on matters of mutual interest and to supporting projects that can ensure no negative impact on fishery resources or the marketability of Alaska seafood," PSPA said in a release. It added: "We also encourage Bristol Bay fishermen who deliver to Trident, Peter Pan, Yardarm Knot or North Pacific Seafoods to extend their thanks to those for taking this unprecedented step."
FISH MEETING TRIFECTA
The International Pacific Halibut Commission will reveal the recommended 2012 halibut catch limits and review four regulation change proposals at its Nov. 30-Dec. 1 meeting in Seattle. Final decisions will be made at the IPHC annual meeting Jan. 24-27, 2012, in Anchorage. Portions of the halibut meeting will be available via webcast.
You can also tune into the state Board of Fisheries meetings Dec. 4-12 in Naknek, where Bristol Bay fisheries top the agenda.
At the same time, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will decide on next year's catch quotas for pollock, cod and other groundfish at its upcoming meeting Dec. 5-13 at the Anchorage Hilton. Also on the agenda: 12 hours for the halibut catch sharing plan for the sport sector, and a full day on crew compensation and lease rates for Bering Sea crab.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.