Fish council meeting now available online

October 9, 2010 

KODIAK -- Can't make it to important fish meetings that affect your future? If you have access to the Internet, you don't have to miss a thing.

"We provide you with the ability to listen in, see who's listening on line, and you can record sections of the meeting to your own computer," said Maria Shawback, staff point person for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's online presence.

The council has been using the technology and expanding its functions for a year. Shawback said a new feature provides the ability to download handouts that once were available only at the meetings.

"So if there's a motion on the table, you can actually follow along at home," she said.

Reaction has been very favorable to the online meetings, Shawback said, not only from far-flung fishing regions, but also from those waiting to testify at the weeklong meetings.

"If we have lengthy testimony and they are waiting for their time to come up, they don't have to wait around in the meeting room. They can figure out where they are in the sign-up, and listen to who is up ahead of them at the same time," she said.

Shawbank posts upcoming breaks and where the council is on the agenda. There also is a live question-and-answer section on the link where you can advise of any technical problems.

Adding PowerPoint presentations is next in the lineup for listeners, but Shawback said there are no plans to provide live video.

"No one wants to be on camera," she added with a laugh.

Go to the North Pacific council's website at www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc and find the link in the Agenda section.

"It's less than a minute installation on your computer," Shawback said, "and you can plug right in."

The NPFMC is meeting through Tuesday in Anchorage. Hot items on the agenda include revamping the observer program, bycatch of crab around Kodiak, and next year's catch quotas.

The state Board of Fisheries meetings also are online. The Fish Board takes up Cook Inlet, Kodiak and Chignik finfish and statewide king and Tanner crab issues starting on Wednesday at a two-day work session in Kenai. The first meeting, which will focus on Lower Cook Inlet, is set for Nov. 15-18 in Homer. Questions? Call 907-465-4110.

SHELLFISH FARMS

A two-year Mariculture Initiative kicks off this week with two clear goals: Increase the number of farms in Southeast by five each year, starting in 2012; and increase the value of the region's farming sector from the current $183,000 in 2009 by 10 percent annually.

The initiative is being led by Alaska Sea Grant in partnership with state agencies, tribal and other organizations, including the Audubon Society.

"They not only see it as an economic opportunity, but as an environmentally sustainable, healthy use of a marine system. That's a win-win for everyone," said Ray RaLonde, a Sea Grant mariculture specialist.

The major focus is training and education, technology assistance, and working with communities to help them develop local mariculture industries, RaLonde said.

"Many communities, especially in Southeast, view it as a way to provide jobs and boost local economies," he added.

The initiative will target Kake, Prince of Wales, the Kuiu/Kupreanof region, Chatham Straits, Wrangell and Petersburg.

"One of the problems with the way the program has worked historically is that an individual will choose a site and go through a screening process that leads to a farm lease. But that tends to generate a whole raft of isolated farmers that are doing everything themselves in remote areas," RaLonde said. "We want to link them together in some type of collective that allows sharing services between farmers and a community."

"We know from economic analyses of shellfish aquaculture that 72 percent of the income stays in the local area. So it has an amazing capacity to provide economic opportunities," he added.

While oysters provide the bulk of Alaska's shellfish crops, RaLonde said the project aims to include other species. A project under way in Sea Otter Sound is testing the feasibility of growing commercial amounts of steamer clams.

"That is a huge vacant market in Alaska, and we want to do something about that. It looks very promising," RaLonde said.

Another project at Annette Island is testing subtidal and intertidal farming of giant geoduck clams, which are now harvested only in deep waters by divers.

Economic analyses show that expanding mariculture in Southeast could return up to $70 million to the region annually, said John Sund, project director for the Oceans Alaska center in Ketchikan.

The Mariculture Initiative officially begins Wednesday at the Cape Fox Lodge in Ketchikan with technology training, business planning and new growing techniques that can reduce labor by 70 percent. Contact RaLonde at 907-274-9697 or raymond.ralonde@alaska.edu.

DOLLAR DROPS

The dollar has been sinking against major currencies, falling last week to 82 cents against the yen (a 15-year low), and $1.02 against the Canadian loonie, a 4 percent decline. That will make seafood in the United States more expensive, predicts market expert John Sackton of Seafood.com.

"The U.S. imports about 80 percent of its total seafood consumption, and as the dollar weakens, these imports become more expensive," Sackton said.

He mostly blames China.

"China pegs its currency (yuan) to the U.S. dollar, and as the dollar falls, China's exports get more price-competitive," Sackton said.

The Wall Street Journal reports that there are frustrations with the Chinese government's unwillingness to allow its currency to significantly appreciate.


Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her information column appears every other Sunday. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing on your Web site or newsletter, contact msfish@alaska.com.

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