Laine Welch: Project aims to boost energy efficiency of fishing vessels

Laine Welch

Volunteers are needed to test new "do-it-yourself" energy audits on fishing boats.

"Just as with a home audit ... you can learn how your vessel is consuming energy and find places where it might be wasted or not used as efficiently as possible," said Terry Johnson, a marine adviser with Alaska Sea Grant in Anchorage. "And frankly, most fishing vessels are not very energy efficient."

Johnson is part of a team working on a three-year project to reduce the energy needs of fishing businesses. The project is administered by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation with a $250,000 assist from the state of Alaska. Starting this spring, the group plans to test various fuel catalysts and additives, and perhaps hydrogen generators on volunteer vessels.

Meanwhile, Johnson is focused on do-it-yourself ways to get better energy performance from existing boats.

"Look for heat and vibrations and smoke. We think of those things as normal, but those are all wasted energy," he said.

Checking drive lines, ensuring that all bearings are in good condition and properly lubricated, tightening up steering and better route planning all can reduce energy consumption.

"Most traditional fishing vessel propellers are of a very old design and often mismatched to the boat. There are lots of ways they can be tuned to be more efficient," he said.

In other countries, fishing boats rely heavily on auxiliary sails, Johnson said, which help stabilize the vessels. In contrast, paravane stabilizers, commonly used by longliners and seiners, are tremendous energy wasters.

Find out more about the F/V energy audit program at

You catch it, you eat it

The "bycatch to food bank" program of Bering Sea trawl fishermen and processors has come full circle.

Twenty years ago, the fleet began a program that let it retain salmon, halibut and other species taken as bycatch instead of discarding the fish, as required by law. The fish was processed, frozen, packaged and sent to food banks across the nation.

Now, the fish is staying in state and feeding Alaskans. The Western Alaska Community Development Association, comprising the region's six CDQ groups, led and funded the program starting last year. WACDA urged all Bering Sea fishing companies to retain all bycatch, and share the cost to deliver the fish to food banks and feeding centers in Alaska.

"That added up to 300,000 seafood meals in Alaska last year, from fish that would otherwise be thrown overboard," said Jim Harmon of SeaShare, which connects the seafood industry to national hunger relief efforts. A similar bycatch to food banks program is under way in the Gulf of Alaska.

Fish farmers pan 'Frankenfish'

Fish farmers and fish harvesters can find common ground when it comes to opposing genetically tweaked salmon, sometimes called Frankenfish.

"I think we absolutely don't need it," said Josh Goldman of Australis Aquaculture, the world's largest producer of barramundi, a sea bass that is Australia's most popular fish. Australis has won numerous awards for high quality production from its growing operations in Massachusetts and Vietnam.

Fish health and growth rates can be improved with "good old fashioned selective breeding," Goldman said in a phone interview. "We can make fantastic gains in the productivity of fish without resorting to genetic modification."

Goldman added that it's clear that consumers don't like the idea of manmade fish. That's backed up by the nearly 36,000 public comments to the Food and Drug Administration received by last Friday, nearly every one opposed to man-made fish.

"I think it is pretty clear consumers do not want genetically modified animals, and the industry would be wise to stay away from it," he said. "Anyone who is going to do well in business will listen to their customers very carefully. Many in the salmon industry have been quite clear that they are really not interested in that GM technology today."

Goldmanr had high praise for Alaska's seafood industry, saying Australis "emulates" the way Alaska highlights the health benefits of its seafood, the way it is produced and its commitment to sustainable fisheries.

The deadline to comment to the FDA on genetically modified salmon is Feb. 25. Go to Docket No. FDA-2011-N-0899 at

Fish watch

The 2013 Pacific halibut fishery begins March 23 and ends Nov. 7.

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

Laine Welch