Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 9:46 PM on Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fish council to act on chinook bycatch

A conflict is brewing between the Federal Subsistence Board and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council over king salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery, a topic slated for final action at the council's June meeting in Nome.

At its April meeting in Anchorage the council voted to adopt a preliminary preferred alternative that would cap the king salmon bycatch at 22,500 fish for the western and central Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries, a move that was applauded by fishermen and conservation groups.

However, the Federal Subsistence Board voted last week to ask the council to drop that number to 15,000 chinook and place a hard cap of 50,000 chum salmon on the pollock fishery.

The Federal Subsistence Board is the decision-making body that oversees the federal subsistence management program. It is made up of the regional directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Forest Service and a chairman appointed by the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture. They have been delegated the authority to manage fish and wildlife for subsistence uses on federal public lands and waters in Alaska.

In 2010 the king bycatch soared to more than 51,000 salmon in all Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries at a time when king salmon returns to rivers in the central and western Gulf of Alaska are struggling. Chinook associated with some rivers are designated "stocks of concern" by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game with far-reaching restrictions on commercial and recreational salmon fishermen. There are currently no limits on chinook bycatch in Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries.

Other interested parties such as the Alaska Marine Conservation Council had praise for the council for taking decisive action and not letting the pollock industry succeed in attempts to lower the cap or delay a decision.

When members of the pollock fleet argued that the industry needed more time to offer their own solution, seafood processor Nancy Hillstrand, owner of the Homer-based Coal Point Seafood Co. and advocate for salmon bycatch controls, presented news stories from 20 years ago decrying chinook bycatch, an indication that more time would not necessarily produce the desired results.

It starts with, "And I looked down and could see king crab, underwater. There were so many of them, in big piles, that I could see them out of the airplane flying at 100 miles an hour. Can you imagine that?"

It's called "When Crab Was King: The Rise and Fall of the Kodiak King Crab Fishery," an oral history project available to listen to or download online from the Kodiak Maritime Museum.

In a series of three-minute vignettes, the museum chronicles the hey-days of one of the biggest booms and busts in the Gulf of Alaska, in the words of the people who lived to tell about it.

From the dramatic opening by Guy Powell, Kodiak's first king crab biologist for ADF&G who moved to the island in 1958, the story is picked up by boat owners, captains, crew, processors, biologists, bar owners, and townspeople who saw many fortunes come and go from the 1950's to 1982, the last year there was a king crab fishery in Kodiak. The peak came in 1965 when 94 million pounds of king crab was caught off the archipelago during a 10-month season. Fishermen were paid 10 cents per pound, about a buck a crab, during the time.

Long-time fishermen from Homer will recognize many of the incidents, such as the sinking of the City of Seattle, which sank (the first time) on its maiden voyage, and names like Peggy Dyson, who was the Voice of the Fleet, giving twice-daily weather reports on the single sideband radio as well as passing along birth announcements and other big news.

The Kodiak Maritime Museum has also just opened up a portrait photo exhibit of the faces of those people, which runs through June 1, coinciding with the Kodiak King Crab Festival, May 27-30. The images will eventually become part of the museum's permanent collection.

Find it all at www.kodiakmaritimemuseum.org.

In one of the stranger cause-and-effect stories lately, the Norwegian salmon farming industry has been dealt a serious blow as a result of the Nobel Peace Price.

The Associated Press reports that Norway used to be China's top fresh salmon supplier, sending steadily growing volumes to exclusive restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai.

But since the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Norwegian salmon exporters say their fish is being held up for days or even weeks by Chinese food safety inspectors, devastating its freshness.

"We cannot get fish in there at all," said Henning Beltestad, the CEO of Norway's Leroey Seafood Group.

Beijing warned relations with Norway would suffer when Liu was declared winner of the peace prize for his calls for political change in China. Six months later, the Norwegians are reportedly stunned by how stubbornly China is sticking to its word.

Apparently it is a one-way street, with Chinese companies having no trouble making inroads in Norway, and is targeted to specific industries.

Trade statistics suggest Norwegian goods that China's industry needs, like oil, metals and chemicals, haven't declined since the Nobel. But specialty products with a strong national identity, such as fjord-farmed salmon, are running into trouble, industry officials say.

Norway's fresh salmon exports to mainland China were down 70 percent in the first four months of the year, compared to the same period in 2010.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.