Once again, Dutch clings to top fishing port position

Dutch Harbor-Unalaska held onto the title of the nation's top fishing port for the 15th year in a row, with more than 700 million pounds of fish and crab landed last year, a 36 percent increase from 2010.

New Bedford, Mass., remained the priciest port with landings, mostly scallops, worth nearly $370 million. Dutch Harbor again ranked second with $207 million, an increase of $44 million.

The numbers come from the annual Fisheries of the U.S. report just released by NOAA Fisheries.

Landings of edible fish topped 10 billion pounds, a 17-year high and up 21 percent from 2010. The increase was led by bigger harvests of Alaska pollock and cod, as well as increases in shrimp landings in the Gulf of Mexico, and lobster and crab landings in the Northeast. The dockside value of the U.S. catch jumped to $5.3 billion, an increase of nearly $800 million.

In all, a dozen Alaska ports made the Top 50 list for either landings, values or both. Akutan made a big debut at third for seafood landings (431 million pounds, up from 302 million in 2010), and fourth for value at $114 million, a $30 million increase.

Kodiak ranked fifth in terms of landings (372 million pounds vs. 325 million) and third for value at $168 million, an increase of $40 million from 2010.

Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. seafood landings come from Alaska, where last year deliveries topped 738 million pounds (down 2 percent), valued at almost $565 million (up 12 percent).

U.S. landings of salmon in 2011 were 780 million pounds, valued at $618 million, a 1 percent decrease in poundage, but an 11 percent increase ($63.5 million) in value. Alaska provided 95 percent of the U.S. wild salmon catch.

U.S. per capita consumption of fish and shellfish in 2011 was 15 pounds, a drop of .8 pounds per person.

The report also includes recreational fishing. It's a great read. Find it online.

Catch Watch

Catches of Alaska pollock, cod and other ground fish could climb next year if fishery overseers agree with the scientists. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will take a first look at catch recommendations at its meeting next month and make the final decisions in December.

Also in October, the council is set to make a final decision on a halibut catch sharing plan for charter and sport fishing. There's a chance that 5 percent of the annual halibut allocation will be shifted from commercial fishing to those groups.

The council meets Oct. 3 to 9 at the Anchorage Hilton. If you can't make the meeting, you can participate online.

Quality kudos

No town tops Cordova when it comes to touting salmon, and this summer fishermen and processors took bragging about fish quality to a whole new level.

For the past two summers, fishermen have partnered with the region's nine processors to adopt strict handling guidelines to improve salmon quality even more.

"Everyone in the chain of custody agreed to participate in the project," said Beth Poole, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association, which is operated and funded by more than 550 salmon fishermen with a 1 percent tax on their catches.

"Having nine independent processors working together on a project is pretty unheard of, and we are proud to have that support from all of them," she said.

The guidelines require using short soak times, proper bleeding and chilling, proper sanitizing, delivering often, and quick transport from tenders to shore plants. The extra time and effort really pays off, said Gary Johnson, plant manager at Peter Pan Seafoods.

"The program exceeded my expectations quite a bit ... there were very few fish we couldn't fillet," he said.

This year the program gave awards for quality. The first "Top Quality Harvester Award" went to Mike Webber on the F/V Amulet. See the complete list of winners here.

Crab watch

Reports from the industry/agency crab plan team meeting in Seattle indicate the Bristol Bay red king crab quota may range between 7 and 8 million pounds. For Bering Sea snow crab, the quota will likely be about 70 million pounds. Managers will announce the catch numbers in early October.

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 msfish@alaska.com.