Laine Welch: Seafood deemed radiation-free

FisheriesFebruary 9, 2014 

Alaska seafood is free of radiation stemming from Japan's 2011 tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster.

That was the report from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to the state Senate Resources Committee at a recent hearing.

Citing information from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Health Canada, Marty Brewer, the DEC's director of Environmental Health, said Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia "all have demonstrated . . . no levels of radiation that are of a public health concern."

Brewer added that only very small amounts of radiation have been detected from the reactor source. "There has been detection of cesium that is reportedly from Fukushima but at miniscule levels," she said.

DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig said programs in the Lower 48 are testing fish that swim between the Gulf of Alaska, the West Coast and Japan, and they have come up with a clean bill of health. The DEC also is monitoring marine debris washing ashore in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound, Hartig said.

Behavior cuts bycatch

Gear experts are using fish behavior to reduce the take of accidentally caught salmon, known as "bycatch," in trawl nets. Video cameras inside nets revealed several years ago that Alaska pollock and salmon behave very differently when captured.

Salmon were able to swim against the strong flow within the net better than the pollock, said John Gauvin, a gear specialist who for decades has worked closely with Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fleets.

"You would see the salmon moving forward in the net at times, and you would see the pollock steadily dropping back, with some ability to move forward but at a loss. They would move a little bit forward and then move a lot back," he explained.

Trawlers will soon begin field testing an "over and under" net device to see how it performs.

"We are pretty excited about this device and we are going to be doing testing this spring in the Gulf and then, hopefully, in the fall in the Bering Sea," Gauvin said.

A "flapper" excluder device, used by many trawlers since 2012, has resulted in a 25 percent to 37 percent king salmon escapement with very little loss of pollock. While it works well, Gauvin said, the design is difficult to adopt widely in the fishery and requires a lot of fine tuning.

Finding "cleaner" gear that is affordable and adaptable will drive the future of our fisheries, Gauvin said.

". . . Success in the fisheries is not so much of what you catch, but what you don't catch. Fishermen spend a lot of time figuring out how to avoid things they are not supposed to catch so they can continue to make a living," he said.

Fish for heart health

The role of seafood in maintaining a healthy heart is featured in a nationwide media blitz in February, designated as Heart Month.

The American Heart Association has placed one million magazine inserts in major newspapers from Boston to Los Angeles, and they include full-page ads about the importance of eating more seafood.

"The science is there to help all of us understand that eating seafood twice a week can be great for our heart health, but that message is just not getting out. So this is our first effort to work with health partners to bring a credible message to Americans. We are very excited about it," said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which promotes the twice-a-week message across the country.

"I can see that people understand that seafood is good for them," she continued. "The hurdles come from knowing how to buy it and cook it, and understanding the different varieties of seafood they can include in their diet."

Cornish said the Seafood Nutrition Partnership is testing various outreach messages to see how they resonate with consumers -- and to balance out negative messages.

"What you are seeing in terms of the different messages on mercury and toxicity is very well founded; it's just that you hear more of those messages versus the good news on seafood. So our initiative is to try and get more positive messages out about seafood and provide a more balanced view."


Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at msfish@alaska.com.

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