Story last updated at 1:38 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2002

Branding program attracts strong initial interest
"KENAI WILD" is the brand name selected for Cook Inlet sockeyes, and fishermen and processors have already flocked to the new program in bigger numbers than expected. Jack Brown, who is heading up the program for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said organizers had hoped to attract one processor and 20 to 30 fishermen to voluntarily bleed and ice their fish this summer, but three processors and more than 50 fishermen have already signed on. "My guess is that we'll do substantially more" than the 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of finished product that was initially envisioned, Brown said.

TRAINING FOR BOTHfishermen and processors has already started and will continue as the season draws near, Brown said. While marketing eventually will be a key component, "it's not as important as quality training education this first year." Quality control will be assured by Surefish, a Seattle company, and sockeyes that meet the standards will be eligible for a Kenai Wild stamp. Bleeding and icing the salmon may not be possible during the peak of the run, he said, but as more fishermen get familiar with the quality standards the amount of premium quality salmon should rise, he said.

THE BRANDING PROGRAM steering committee has been meeting twice a month since last August, and Brown said attendance has been near 100 percent. The group includes representatives of drift and setnet associations, independent fishermen and buyers, plus the three processors <> Salamatof Seafoods, Snug Harbor and Deep Creek Custom Packing <> plus borough Assemblyman Chris Moss of Homer. Mark Powell is the chairman. Anyone who wants to get involved in the program should call Brown's office at 262-6355 and ask to be put on the distribution list.

NEW FEDERAL GUIDELINES will require all seafood products to be labeled at the time of sale with both the country of origin and whether the product is farm-raised or wild. The House-Senate Conference Committee approved the measure last week. It now goes to President Bush for signing. The labeling law is voluntary for two years, but becomes mandatory Oct. 1, 2004. "I'd rather have this go into effect tomorrow, buyt this is a victory for Alaska's salmon industry," said Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska. Advocates believe that consumers will buy more Alaska salmon if the competition is labeled as farm-raised. "Letting consumers make informed decisions about htes seafood they put on their plates is important," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "Now all Americans can learn what Alaskans already know <> that wild fish from our waters is healthier and tastes better than farmed fish from overseas."

BRETT HUBER received solid nods of support from two House committees that reviewed his nomination, although Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, remained steadfastly opposed. The House Resources Committee voted 5-2 to confirm, with Scalzi and Mike Chenault of Kenai against. Board nominees Gerry Merrigan and Art Nelson received 6-1 votes, with Beverly Masek of Wasilla casting the dissenting ballot. In the House Special Committee on Fisheries vote on Huber, Scalzi alone voted "do not confirm" while three representatives voted to confirm and two had no recommendation. Merrigan and Nelson both won approval, also. Senate committees do not vote on board appointments. The confirmation votes before the full House and Senate have yet to be scheduled, Scalzi's office said Monday.

TWO CHIGNIK FISHERMEN have sued the Alaska Board of Fisheries over its controversial creation of the salmon cooperative, saying the plan to split the fishery into equal shares violates the Alaska Constitution's guarantees of common use and equal treatment. Seiners Dean Anderson and Michael Grunert filed their suit in Juneau Superior Court after 77 of 99 Chignik permit holders joined the coop. Assistant attorney general Lance Nelson told the board in January that he believes the co-op idea is defendable in court. There are some gray areas, Nelson said, such as whether the fish board can allocate between fishermen in the same area using the same gear, but according to board chairman Ed Dersham, Nelson was confident about the proposal's prospects.

IT MAY BE LEGAL, but it will be a challenge to manage, said Chignik area management biologist George Pappas. "I'm going to take a pickup load of Tums out there this summer," he said. "I don't believe that at any point in time everybody will be happy." Each of the 77 permit holders who joined the co-op will be allocated 0.9 percent of the catch, for a total of 69.3 percent. That leaves just over 30 percent for the remaining 22 boats <> half of whom are highliners who catch two to three times the area average, Pappas said. For some, it could mean a harvest reduction of 30 percent. The two fleets will fish together as much as possible, he said, but he fears that the co-op fleet won't be able to stop its share of this summer's estimated harvest of 1.5 million sockeyes. "I don't know how we're going to stop 100,000 fish a day with 45 boats when it was hard enough to stop them with 100 boats," Pappas said. "I don't want to wake up one morning to find 200,000 fish behind the weir."

TOGIAK HERRING popped up sooner than expected, allowing the Department of Fish and Game to open both seine and gillnet fisheries several times over the weekend. Aerial surveys as late as last Wednesday found signs of herring activity in the area, such as gray whales feeding on the bottom and stirring up the mud, but no fish were spotted. The department only set up its field office at Togiak Fisheries Inc. on Friday, and the first seine opening was called that night. No harvest was reported, but additional fishing was allowed for both seine and gillnet fleets Saturday, Sunday and Monday. As of early Tuesday, seiners had taken 2,907 tons with an average roe content of 9.8 percent, and gillnetters had 444 tons of 10.2. percent fish. This year's combined quota is nearly 21,000 tons.

A NEW REPORT shows that Alaska salmon runs have regularly gone through boom-and-bust cycles, but the cycles sometimes lasted hundreds of years. The study, published in the journal Nature, was conducted by several scientists including Bruce Finney of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Using core sampling techniques in two Kodiak lake bottoms, they inspected the layers of nitrogen isotopes left by dead salmon in the mud, then correlated the mud layers with other phenomenon such as volcanic ash from known eruptions. In periods of high abundance, salmon runs were in the millions, but dropped to mere tens of thousands during the bust cycles. The scientists have gone back about 2,000 years, and now plan to take their research as far as the last ice age, some 15,000 years ago.