Story last updated at 4:14 p.m. Thursday, July 25, 2002

Stevens fishes for federal dollars


Sepp Jannotta
FISHERMEN WILL SEE SOME FUNDS from the federal government if Sen. Ted Stevens has his way. Stevens' office announced recently that the Republican senator helped draft a $20 million appropriation to aid the Alaska seafood industry in marketing its products. The money was included for consideration as part of the Department of Commerce funding bill. "The Alaska seafood industry has shown great success in promoting our prime seafood to targeted Lower-48 consumers," Stevens said in a press release. "This additional $20 million will expand on these efforts and increase the volume of domestically grown wild seafood purchased by Americans and consumers abroad." Stevens went on to accuse Chilean salmon farmers of purposefully flooding U.S. stores and wholesalers with farm-raised fish at the same time the Alaska-produced fish hit the market. "It was and is the intent of Chile to devastate and erase the Alaskan wild-salmon market," he said. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association will oversee the money as part of its Saltonstall-Kennedy Program, with competitively awarded grants directly administered by National Marine Fisheries Service.

ALASKA SEAFOOD MARKETING INSTITUTE Executive Director Barbara Belknap recently visited Washington, D.C., in an effort to keep Stevens and Sen. Frank Murkowski posted on the marketing problems facing the Alaska seafood industry. Belknap said ASMI was eagerly awaiting news on the appropriations bill. That Stevens was pointedly referring to increasing efforts to market Alaskan seafood abroad was particularly encouraging. Much of the current federal grant money ASMI receives is restricted when it comes to marketing overseas, Belknap said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administered a grant of roughly $3 million to ASMI, sets goals that prioritize the opening of new markets over the expansion of existing markets, Belknap said. This does not necessarily help with the battle to win back market share from foreign salmon farmers who have eroded Alaska's hold in critical seafood markets such as Japan, she said. "We have $700,000 for marketing in Japan," Belknap added. "The Norwegians have $7 million." Belknap said the next piece to the funding puzzle for ASMI would be for the Alaska Legislature's Salmon Task Force to recommend earmarking state money for seafood marketing. While Belknap will step down from her post at the end of this month, ASMI has named Ray Riutta, a recently retired Coast Guard admiral, to be the new executive director. In addition to working to mend public relations fences for the Coast Guard following its "Zero Tolerance" enforcement campaign, Riutta previously served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

KENAI RIVER SOCKEYE ESCAPEMENT numbers were ratcheted up Tuesday as the Department of Fish and Game announced that the total Kenai return had gone over 2 million fish. Other changes in the fishery may allow for extra fishing time, while maintaining a 48-hour closure per week. With close to 600,000 sockeyes swimming in the freshwater of the Kenai River, the new escapement range is set at 750,000 to 900,000 fish. Previous estimates of 3.7 million sockeye returning to Upper Cook Inlet has now been amended to between 4.5 to 5 million sockeyes returning by season's end. Upper Cook Inlet driftnet fishermen hauled in an average of 475 sockeye per boat during Monday's opener, with around 300 boats participating in the fishery. Eastside setnetters accounted for 100,000 fish of the 270,000 total sockeye catch. Dock prices for Cook Inlet sockeye continue to be around 50 cents a pound.

ON YOUR MARKS, GET SET, GO. Purse seiners caught their allotted quota of herring and then some during the 20-minute opener in Unalaska Bay July 15. During the brief opening, a fleet of 16 seine boats hauled in between 2,300 and 2,500 tons of Bering Sea herring, according to initial Fish and Game estimates. That is well over the fleet's quota of 1,468 tons. Eleven tenders and three processors also attended the opening. But area biologist Matt Ford told the Dutch Harbor Fisherman that the extra catch would be assessed against next year's purse seine quota. Westward Seafoods was reportedly paying $400 per ton for Bering Sea herring, which are the world's largest herring. Following more than two weeks of nothing doing, the gillnet herring fishermen finally got into some fish as the season progressed into July. Following the purse seine opening, the gillnetters picked up where they left off last week, when they only had 27 tons remaining of their 110-ton quota, according to the Fisherman.

FISHERMEN SHOULD KEEP AN EYE OUT for radio telemetry tags on silver salmon, according to a request from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The department contracted a pair of purse seiners in Lower Cook Inlet to capture and tag coho salmon. The little black tags, fixed just under the dorsal fin, were deployed to drive a study of silver salmon stocks returning to Cook Inlet. They can be tracked by boat, aircraft or shore-based receivers and should provide critical data for the apportionment of silver salmon escapement. Call 907-262-9368 for more information.

THE KODIAK CITY COUNCIL, in a special session last week, offered a new version of a resolution opposing the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's recommended Bering Sea crab rationalization plan. The city council first suggested a number of changes it hoped might be considered in the implementation of the plan. But in the final resolution, the council came out clearly opposing the plan and urged members of Congress to reject the plan as they worked on national fisheries legislation. "The bottom line is that we hated the whole premise of privatization to begin with, but we thought we would try to get the best deal we can," city council member Tom Walters told the Kodiak Daily Mirror. "We have changed out minds and decided to fight the whole premise, which is wrong." The resolution was to be sent to the Alaska congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Commerce, Gov. Tony Knowles and the North Pacific Council. The resolution came a week after the House Resources Committee voted to authorize the controversial changes to the Bering Sea crab fishery, which included a three-pie quota system that would give processors a guaranteed portion of the catch. The measure, part of a bill reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Act, is not expected to make it to a full House vote before Congress breaks for its August recess.

THE ALASKA MARINE CONSERVATION Council, an advocacy group for independent fishermen, has decried the House Resource Committee's bill reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, condemning what it calls provisions that cripple "the last six years of progress toward sustainable fisheries management in the U.S." Most notably the AMCC protested the amendment that would exempt the North Pacific from a prohibition on processor quotas. In addition, the AMCC took exception to loosening of language various conservation issues such as overfishing, bycatch and habitat.