Story last updated at 1:51 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

Crab rationalization should take big leap next week
Joel Gay

NEXT WEEK IS A BIG ONE for all Alaska fishermen as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Dutch Harbor to choose a preferred alternative to rationalize the Bering Sea crab fisheries. The choices include IFQs for fishermen or for both fishermen and processors, or some type of co-operative. Less than 300 boats and a handful of processors constitute the Bering Sea crab industry, but many salmon, herring, halibut and groundfish fishermen fear that the council's action next week will set the stage for a similar rationalization scheme for Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. The council has set aside nearly four full days for the issue, starting Thursday, June 6. A final decision is scheduled for later this year. Also on tap next week are an update on Gulf of Alaska rationalization efforts, and a day's worth of work on American Fisheries Act-related amendments. The meetings run June 5-12 at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.

LOWER COOK INLET'S salmon season began last week on a slow note. As of Tuesday, the sockeye harvest in Resurrection Bay stood at about 200 fish, said area management biologist Lee Hammarstrom in Homer. "It's pretty slow," he said, in part because of a cold spring. Half a dozen seiners are working, he said. Kachemak Bay setnets go into the water at 6 a.m. Monday for two 48-hour periods a week, while the Kamishak District opens to seining seven days a week starting tomorrow.

A FEW PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND drifters made a killing two weeks ago when they found themselves alone with a strong sockeye return to Main Bay Hatchery. According to the Anchorage Daily News, four drift fishermen elected to skip the first six-hour Copper River opener and instead fish Eshamy Bay, where they were given 72 hours. The return was only expected to be 36,000 reds, but the fleet eventually landed 139,000. A few Copper River fishermen scooted over after their own period was closed, but those who started at Eshamy pulled in fish until their fingers bled, earning at least one drifter more than $100,000 for the three-day opening. Prices matched the Copper River offering at $2.50 a pound, even though processors said they weren't planning to market the Main Bay fish as Copper River reds.

WILD SALMON GOT THE BEST publicity possible last weekend when the New York Times Sunday Magazine food column focused on the 2002 salmon seasons in Alaska, and to a lesser extent, British Columbia and Washington. Food writer Jonathan Reynolds hammers home the idea that wild salmon are the only salmon worth buying, and encourages buyers to stock up while the fish are running. "Eat all you can, while you can," he advises. He also bashes farmed salmon throughout the piece. Reynolds quotes prominent New York chef Dave Pasternack saying, "I never eat farm-raised fish, and I don't serve it. It's really junked-out, bottom of the barrel." Reynolds especially praises the fattiest fish, such as Copper River reds and Yukon kings, and acknowledges the confusion that surrounds the five species of wild salmon and myriad places of origin, but Alaska fishermen should be grateful for the shot in the arm.

KODIAK COULD BE NEXT to get on the branding bandwagon. The Kodiak Daily Mirror reported last week that a new working group has formed to explore the possibilities of grants to help fund their effort to create

a brand name for Kodiak reds. "Although people have different views on how to move forward with salmon branding, there was consensus to go ahead and continue with the project on the community level," Erin Harrington of the United Salmon Association told the paper. The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce plans to look for grants.

SALMON FISHERMEN OUT WEST are showing signs of bending to the pressure of low prices. A survey of False Pass fishermen found nearly 80 percent were willing to participate in a co-op or consider alternative harvest methods, according to the Dutch Harbor Fisherman. The survey, conducted by the Aleutians East Borough and Concerned Area M Fishermen, also found 77 percent of the permit holders are dissatisfied with the marketing efforts of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and nearly 60 percent favored a vessel buyback. Some 25 percent of the 388 permit holders responded to the survey, the paper reported. In the last 10 years, the number of Aleutians East Borough residents that are considered low or moderate income rose from 33 percent to 73 percent.

BRISTOL BAY FISHERMEN are being surveyed on the question of permit buybacks, as well as the optimum number of permits for the bay. The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission sent surveys to 440 permit holders asking about their operating costs, investment in the industry and their economic returns. Commissioner Kurt Schelle said that information will be blended with data from the Department of Fish and Game and other agencies to determine the optimal size of the Bristol Bay fleet. If that size is smaller than the current fleet, the entry commission can propose a buyback, which would be funded by fishermen. However, those fishermen could attempt to get state or federal help with the program. The state had hoped to have initial results from the survey done by the time the Bristol Bay season begins next month.

CHIGNIK FISHERMEN MEET Tuesday to start hammering out plans for their new, groundbreaking cooperative sockeye fishery. "This is the first time anybody has done this, so t here are lots of unknowns," said area management biologist George Pappas. Among the unknowns is the fate of an injunction sought by co-op opponents. Chignik seiners Dean Anderson and Michael Grunert have asked a Juneau judge to stop the co-op fishery, but as of Tuesday no injunction had been filed, according to assistant attorney general Lance Nelson. In the meantime, the first jumper appeared in Chignik early this week, Pappas said, and test fishing is scheduled to begin Monday. In the past, test fishing had been conducted by the department; this year the co-op will be pressed into service to do the work. That will provide a shakedown cruise for the co-op and managers, Pappas said. In addition to Norquest Seafoods and Trident Seafoods, the co-op is bringing Ray Wadsworth and a floating processor meant to produce boneless sockeye fillets. The first full opener is usually around June 10-14.

HERRING FISHERIES are winding down, with the statewide catch to date well below the allowable harvest, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Togiak wrapped up last week with a total of 17,021 tons, nearly 4,000 tons less than expected. Seiners landed 11,758 tons with an average roe content of 10.3 percent, while gillnetters had 5,263 tons of 10.8 percent fish. Fishermen found smaller than expected herring, which will likely have a downward effect on prices. One Homer seiner said he'd heard offers as low as $50 a ton. Kodiak is all but over, with the catch standing at 1,670 tons, according to the Department of Fish and Game. A few gillnetters could push that total higher, but it looks likely the harvest will not hit the 1,760-ton forecast. With Sitka Sound falling below the forecast, also, the statewide catch to date is less than 30,000 tons. Western Alaska fisheries have yet to kick off, but processor disinterest the last few years has left a substantial portion of the herring from Nunivak Island to Norton Sound uncaught.

HALIBUT LANDINGS are picking up in Homer and dropping in Seward, and this week Homer regained its No. 1 standing. Through Sunday, landings here were 4.2 million pounds, while Seward stood at 4.1 million. Statewide, nearly 20.5 million pounds have been landed out of the Alaska quota of 61.9 million pounds. Blackcod landings in Homer are up to 1.6 million pounds.

FRANK MURKOWSKI got the United Fishermen of Alaska endorsement for governor last week. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the group's board voted 15-2 with five members abstaining to give the Republican their support. Democrat Fran Ulmer said she was surprised and unhappy that she didn't fare better. Both candidates were given a questionnaire to fill out several weeks ago, then interviewed. Ulmer said the board never read her answers to the questionnaire; UFA president Bob Thorstenson Jr. said her answers weren't read because Ulmer failed to deliver them on time. "I'm sorry, but if people don't have time to read her questionnaire (answers), it's because she didn't give them to anybody," he told the Daily News. "It's sort of like dropping your test off five days late and asking the teacher why she didn't grade it." Murkowski called the endorsement "very important. Ulmer said she would take her message directly to fishing families.

A NEW MARINE CONSERVATION group has hired former Knowles administration staff member Ron Clarke as its first executive director. The Marine Conservation Alliance, which was created by western Alaska fishing interests "to ensure that fishery conservation and management decisions are based on sound science," the group's Web site says. Among its board members are representatives of CDQ groups, factory longliners, shore-based trawlers and factory trawlers. Clarke was a special assistant to both Gov. Tony Knowles and former Gov. Steve Cowper, and also worked as a journalist and legislative aide.