Bycatch gives food banks reason to be thankful

Laine Welch

Alaska food banks benefit a lot from fish taken as bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, thanks to Kodiak fishermen and local processors.

This fall and winter, the partnership has donated more than 5,000 pounds of processed and packaged halibut and salmon to the Kodiak Island Food Bank and more than 10,000 pounds to the Food Bank of Alaska headquarters in Anchorage.

The bycatch-to-food-banks program in the Gulf is an expansion of a retention program authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1994. Federal law generally requires that species taken as bycatch in trawl fisheries be tossed overboard.

Since then the program has been in place for the Bering Sea. This year Kodiak trawl fishermen and processors asked that Gulf bycatch be added "so good fish would not be wasted," said Jim Harmon, director of Sea Share, the only nonprofit group that focuses on seafood for hunger relief.

"The Kodiak fishermen sign up their boats to be able to retain halibut or salmon taken in trawl fisheries that can't be returned alive to the sea," Harmon explained. "They bring it ashore and the plants are authorized to retain it and hold it separately for Sea Share."

Participating processors include Ocean Beauty, North Pacific Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, International Seafoods of Alaska and Peter Pan Seafoods (King Cove). The Kodiak project also allows for the food to be distributed locally.

"We took as much as our freezers could hold," said Alexander Tsurikov, director of Kodiak Food Bank. "I had to watch how I handed it out. It went really fast."

Kodiak has reflected the 26 percent national uptick in food bank traffic over the past five years, Tsurikov said.

"I am really thankful to all the people who made the program work," Tsurikov said. "I had given up on it ever happening and I hope it continues."

The food banks program is what got Sea Share started but today bycatch is just 10 percent of its seafood pantry. The Northwest Salmon Canners, for example, have donated more than 400,000 pounds of canned salmon to help with disaster relief in the Lower 48 and the upper Yukon River. In all, Sea Share has provided more than 150 million seafood meals to hungry people since 1994. (More at


Out of sight, out of mind could describe the Alaska seafood industry when it comes to recognition by many policymakers -- despite the fact that the industry provides the greatest number of private sector jobs, is second only to oil in terms of state tax revenues, and provides Alaska's top export.

To help set the record straight, United Fishermen of Alaska, the nation's largest fishing trade group, has compiled fact sheets that highlight 18 Alaska fishing ports and their contributions to the state. Profiles include the number of permit holders and crew, processing jobs, boats home ported and other economic data for Anchorage, Cordova, Dillingham, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Petersburg, Seward, Sitka, Wrangell, Aleutians West Borough, Aleutians East Borough, Bristol Bay Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough and Mat-Su Borough.

"UFA feels it is vital to our mission to bring this information out in a way that is clear and useful to help illustrate what the fishing industry brings back to the state of Alaska and its communities," said Arni Thomson, UFA president.

Fishery landing taxes, for example, are split 50/50 between the port where the fish is landed and the state's general fund ($80 million in 2009). A sampler:

Sitka is home to 605 vessels where 1,100 skippers and crew fished in 2010. Sitka fishermen earned more $40 million at the docks; the community and the state shared nearly $2 million in fish taxes.

At Petersburg, 579 boats are home ported and 28.4 percent of the population fishes. Petersburg fishermen hauled in $51 million worth of seafood last year and shared $1.2 million in taxes with the state.

More than 27 percent of Cordova's population goes fishing; the city and state split $1.5 in taxes. At Homer, 493 are home based and nearly $1.5 million in fish taxes went to the state.

The Bristol Bay Borough and the state split $3.5 million in fish taxes in 2010. Wasilla Palmer and Mat-Su Borough claimed 618 resident skippers and crew who took home nearly $15 million from fishing jobs.


Anchorage ranks No. 1 for Alaska cities with the most resident skippers and crew: more than 1,800.

The Aleutians West Borough, home to Dutch Harbor, ranked first for fish taxes at $3 million paid to the state in 2010.

And while Dutch Harbor ranks No. 1 for seafood landings and values, Kodiak by far outpaces all other Alaska ports when it comes to fishing "ka-ching!"

The estimated income by Dutch Harbor's 92 resident fishermen and 30 local boats was $3.3 million. By comparison, 622 vessels call Kodiak home, with more than 1,400 permit holders and crewmen. The estimated ex-vessel income by Kodiak residents was $127 million and the port put nearly $2 million into state coffers.

Values for the fishing industry typically use ex-vessel (dock) prices paid to fishermen but that only represents half the value after the seafood is processed and sent to markets around the world. Find the UFA Fact Sheets at


For the first time since it was established in 1914, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association has taken a position on a politically charged development project -- the Pebble prospect. PSPA is a trade group representing Alaska shore-based processing companies.

"After careful consideration, we are compelled to oppose development of the Pebble Mine project due to its unique location, size and potential harm," PSPA said. "We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with all Alaska industries on matters of mutual interest and to supporting projects that can ensure no negative impact on fishery resources or the marketability of Alaska seafood."

It added: "We also encourage Bristol Bay fishermen who deliver to Trident, Peter Pan, Yardarm Knot or North Pacific Seafoods to extend their thanks to those for taking this unprecedented step." (See


The International Pacific Halibut Commission will reveal the recommended 2012 halibut catch limits and review four proposed regulation changes at its Nov. 30-Dec. 1 meeting in Seattle. Decisions will be made at the IPHC annual meeting Jan. 24-27 in Anchorage. Parts of the halibut meeting will be available by webcast.

You can also tune into the state Board of Fisheries meetings Dec. 4-12 in Naknek, where Bristol Bay fisheries top the agenda.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will decide on next year's catch quotas for pollock, cod and other groundfish at its meeting Dec. 5-13 at The Hilton Anchorage. Also on the agenda: 12 hours for the halibut catch-sharing plan for the sport sector and a full day on crew compensation and lease rates for Bering Sea crab.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact

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