Story last updated at 3:56 p.m. Thursday, May 23, 2002

Blackcod fishermen moving toward new record
Joel Gay and Sepp Jannotta
BLACKCOD IS POURING into Homer at a record pace. Through Tuesday landings stood at 1,442,352 pounds. Last year, longliners brought in a record 1.8 million pounds by the season closure Nov. 15, which suggests a new record will be set in 2002. Mike McCune, owner of the custom processing plant The Fish Factory, said several factors account for the growing interest in Homer as a destination for the sablefish fleet. A substantial number are having his plant freeze their fish, he said. "Were getting our share," McCune said. But he added that Snug Harbor Seafoods is offering one of the highest prices in the state. "I think that between the two, guys are floating in to the best paychecks in the state right now," he said.

HOMER STILL ISN'T THREATENING Seward for the No. 1 spot in landings, but the increased boat traffic must mean the skippers like what they're finding here. McCune said Homer's support services deserve some credit for that. "They're doing a really good job," he said. "It's stuff like machine shops staying open late to get work done <> little things like that go a long ways." Add to that the high quality of ice produced by the Homer ice plant, the ability of crews to fly out for quick trips to the Lower 48, and Homer makes sense for an increasing number of boats, he said. "They seem to be pleased with the results so far."

HALIBUT LANDINGS are starting to come Homer's way again. As of Tuesday boats had delivered 3,825,650 pounds to Homer, or 21.23 percent of the catch, compared with 3,794,658 pounds going into Seward.

COPPER RIVER FISHERY PRODUCED a catch of 4,822 king salmon and 55,177 red salmon during the 6-hour season opener last Thursday, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game preliminary estimates. A shorter-than-usual opener combined with strong marketplace interest in the first Alaska-caught salmon of the year, raising prices higher than expected. The first Kings of the 7 a.m.-to-1 p.m. opening were bringing $5.25 to $5.75 a pound, while reds were changing hands at $3 per pound, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Last year processors were paying $4.60 a pound for kings and $2.75 for reds, when the fleet brought in 6,141 king salmon and 72,274 red salmon. Prices should drop substantially once Alaska's other salmon fisheries begin impacting the market. At the grocer's counter in the Lower 48, the first Copper River kings have been known to fetch as much as $20 per pound, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

THE 500-BOAT FLEET returned to Copper River Flats on Monday for a 12-hour opening, though official preliminary estimates weren't available from Fish and Game until after this writing, though prices did fall from opening day levels, due to an influx of hatchery fish. Red salmon dropped to $1.35 a pound and king salmon dipped to $4.50 a pound. The next opening is set for Thursday and will be another six-hour affair. According to The Associated Press, Fish and Game is taking a conservative tack with the fishery because of low water levels in the Copper River due to significant ice remaining upstream. The salmon will often hold in the 60-mile wide delta at low water, making for easier fishing. Managers hope to prevent the fleet from taking too many fish during one period, so that the catch might be spread more evenly over the different genetic stocks that make up the fishery.

FISHERMEN WITH a scientific bent might be interested in a seminar June 18-19 in Anchorage sponsored by the state, the University of Alaska, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council and half a dozen other agencies. Entitled "Alaska's Oceans and Watersheds: Sustainability in the context of change," the two-day symposium will take a broad look at what's happening now in Alaska's coastal environments, and what the future might hold. Discussions will range from the effects of large-scale climate variability on the ocean's carrying capacity to trends and status of various populations, pollutant issues, why some fish populations are booming and others in decline, and ocean governance. It's all happening at the Captain Cook Hotel. For more information, check out www.oilspill.state.ak.us.

JOE HAZELWOOD PAID the remainder of his restitution debt last week, when his lawyers delivered a check for $50,000 to officials with the state of Alaska, The Associated Press reported. Hazelwood was ordered to pay restitution and perform a 1,000 hours of community service after being convicted of negligent discharge of oil in the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, a misdemeanor.

FARMED SALMON CONTAIN PCBs in elevated levels, according research and tests conducted on British Columbia-raised fish, The Associated Press reported Friday. Michael Easton, a geneticist from Vancouver, British Columbia, found that eating as little as one meal a week of farmed salmon could pose a danger. Easton found that the farmed salmon he tested showed higher levels of most contaminants than their wild counterparts. He found nearly 10 times the toxic load of some kinds of PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls. Easton said the higher levels of some PCBs stems from contaminated feed used to promote rapid growth in farmed fish.

PACIFIC SALMON TREATY is OK just as it is, as far as Ted Stevens is concerned. At a congressional hearing last week on the Pacific Salmon Recovery Act (S. 1825), the Alaska senator voiced his opposition to a proposal for equal allocation of Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery funds among states. Currently Alaska and Washington receive $143 million out of the $258 million appropriated for the program, which helps states and Native American tribes with salmon conservation and restoration. Stevens objected to legislation that would divide 85 percent of the funds evenly between Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho. Tribal governments would pick up the remaining 15 percent, as opposed to the 10 percent they currently receive.

"FUNDS FOR SALMON habitat and fish production should not be allocated equally between states because different states have different states have different problems," Stevens said. "Salmon fishing is far more important to Alaska than to the rest of the states combined." Stevens also panned a provision in the bill that would give priority to salmon stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act. "There are no endangered salmon in Alaska, but if $27 million is available for endangered salmon, we'll see litigation to prove there are," Stevens said.

WITH MORE ATLANTIC SALMON from British Columbia fish farms escaping and being caught off Alaska's coast each year, Sen. Frank Murkowski lobbied members of Canada's Parliament for stricter regulations on the salmon farming industry. Murkowski announced Monday that he had won support from some parliamentarians for better controls to prevent salmon escapement while attending the annual Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Conference in Rhode Island. "I am pleased that Canadian members pledged to work on regulations that would end the escapements of farmed fish," Murkowski said. "They said they were very serious about combating this threat to both country's wild fish runs."

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