Homer Alaska - Seawatch

Story last updated at 8:08 PM on Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Herring fishing begins in Togiak

By Cristy Fry

Herring fishing began in Togiak on May 8 and is continuing steadily.

As of Monday, the gillnet fleet had caught 1,184 tons, about 16 percent of its quota, and the seiners had caught 7,585 tons, about 42 percent of their quota. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was expanding the area available to gillnets and reducing the seine area.

The overall quota for Togiak this year is 24,805 tons, split 70 percent for seiners, 30 percent for gillnetters.

There are 22 seiners and 25 gillnetters on the grounds. No price has been posted.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has teamed up with the Alaska Marine Safety and Education Association and the Alaska Sea Grant program to create a new safety DVD titled "Man Overboard: Prevention and Recovery."

The free video was designed to help crew prevent and respond to man overboard events. It features interviews with fishermen about experiences with falling overboard, and explains how to successfully recover a person in the water.

Between 2000 and 2009, there were 504 commercial fishing fatalities in the U.S., 26 percent of them in Alaska. Thirty-one percent occurred as a result of a man-overboard situation.

Three of the seven most hazardous fisheries as determined by number of fatalities during those 10 years took place in Alaska. They ranked as follows: Gulf of Mexico shrimp, Atlantic scallop, Alaska salmon, Northeast groundfish, Alaska cod, West Coast Dungeness crab and Alaska sole.

NIOSH reports that there is a core group of six people in the organization who work to improve commercial fishing safety, producing solid, helpful products and scientific information regarding commercial fishing safety. They tailor their products for specific fisheries, regions or hazards, and include fishermen in every step of their research.

Order the new safety DVD by sending an e-mail to pubstaft@cdc.gov, and include the DVD title "Man Overboard Prevention and Recovery" and the NIOSH publication number "2011-126d" in your request, or call 800-232-4636.

University of Alaska Fairbanks is involved in a research project to determine how climate changes are affecting northern oceans by installing monitoring buoys that will record pH levels in Alaskan waters, the first of its kind for the state.

"This is the first dedicated ocean acidification mooring to be deployed in a high-latitude coastal sea," said Jeremy Mathis, principal investigator for the project and an assistant professor of chemical oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "Other moorings have been deployed with ocean acidification sensors, but this is the first complete package in Alaska."

The first buoy has been placed at the mouth of Resurrection Bay near Seward. A second buoy will be deployed in the Bering Sea this month, and a third will be placed in the Chukchi Sea in October. The data collected by the buoys will be sent to scientists in real time via satellite.

Ocean acidification is the term used to describe increasing acidity in the world's oceans. As carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere, the ocean absorbs it like a sponge, making seawater more acidic. Scientists estimate that the ocean is 25 percent more acidic today than it was 300 years ago

According to Mathis, the coastal seas around Alaska are more susceptible to ocean acidification because of unique circulation patterns and colder temperatures. These factors increase the transport of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into surface waters.

One of the most noticeable impacts of the increased acidity is hampered shell formation. As ocean pH drops and acidity rises, organisms such as corals, oysters, clams and crabs have trouble pulling minerals necessary for their shells out of the seawater, something that could have a devastating impact on Alaska's lucrative crab fisheries.

Walmart customers are finding out the hard way what many Alaskans, including fishery researchers, have known for a very long time: arrowtooth flounder are not the stuff of white tablecloth menus.

Alaska Dispatch reports that the Chinese are supplying Walmart with frozen arrowtooth flounder fillets, which they are selling in their U.S. stores. Customer reviews have panned the product across the board.

This is how Walmart describes the product: "You can build your dinner around this totally delicious fish. Serve it with a light cream sauce and top it off with slivered almonds. It will shine as the star of the show. Or serve it with pasta and tomato sauce and make it a support player in your dinner production. It's very versatile — a talented performer all the way."

The customers feel very differently. One customer called it "inedible," another "nasty." One said it wasn't suitable for her dog. One person thought they had gotten a bad fish the first time and tried it again, with the same results. One said the mushy look and castor oil smell made them sick.

Arrowtooth flounder are the largest biomass in the Gulf of Alaska, 198 percent above target level according to NMFS, and are partly to blame for the slow growth of halibut over the past 15 years, according to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Their huge numbers create a stressful level of competition for available food sources.

The problem with them is that they release a proteolytic enzyme when cooked that breaks the flesh down into mush, something the Fishery Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak tried for years to find a cure for, with little success.

There are some food-grade additives developed recently that inhibit, but do not stop the enzyme's action, and may have different effects depending upon cooking time.

Another problem with the quality may be that some of the fish are being shipped whole and frozen to China, where they must be thawed, processed and refrozen before being returned to U.S. Walmart stores.

There is concern that the product may damage Alaska's reputation for quality seafood. The Dispatch reports that the Arrowtooth are in the freezer case next to wild Alaska salmon fillets at the Dimond Walmart in Anchorage and are similarly packaged and labeled as "wild caught," although they are not labeled as an Alaska fish.

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