Laine Welch: Cam sled gives researchers live video of the sea floor

Laine Welch

There's a new Alaska reality show, courtesy of the Alaska Cam Sled.

"Alaska Cam Sled is a towed imaging system that takes a lot of high-resolution pictures of the bottom of the ocean," explained Gregg Rosenkranz, a state scallop biometrician based in Kodiak.

Rosenkranz and his colleague, Rick Shepherd, built the cam sled, which lets them watch live streaming video of the sea floor while onboard a research vessel. They hail it as a non-invasive way to observe and collect data in real time.

"We found out pretty quickly after we started doing this about six or seven years ago that there is a lot of other stuff down there; for example, a lot of Tanner crabs live in the same areas as scallops do."

"I like to think of it as a really stupid robot that does one job really well, and that is to take high-resolution photos," Rosenkranz said, adding: "It's easier and cheaper than a lot of other ways, because it is towed. You're not sending divers down there, for example, who get tired out."

The Alaska Cam Sled will be showcased at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sept. 26-28, in Kodiak.

Fish cam fast track

Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is pressing federal managers for faster action on getting cameras to replace human catch monitors on small fishing boats.

"With today's advanced technology, NOAA Fisheries can figure out an electronic monitoring system that works for small fishing businesses," Murkowski said.

The (electronic monitoring system) would replace observers now required on halibut longline vessels while fishing.

"That is the one thing I've heard as I've been out walking the docks," she said. "People take me onto their boats and say, where are you going to put an observer on this vessel that has room for three, maybe four?"

Murkowski said it troubles her that a crew member often gets left behind to accommodate an observer, which affects the efficiency and safety of the trip.

"I understand the data is important," she said, "I'm just saying we can be smarter in how we collect it."

Salmon scramble

A lackluster Alaska salmon fishery combined with shortfalls in farmed fish have buyers struggling to fill orders for U.S. customers.

The statewide salmon catch has topped 81 million, less than halfway to the 180 million fish forecast. It will take the hard-to-predict pink catch to get us there -- state managers expect a harvest of nearly 120 million humpies, 73 percent more than last year.

The pink numbers are adding up fast. Already half the total salmon catch consists of pinks, mostly from Prince William Sound (26 million). The biggest push is still to come from Southeast Alaska, where a catch of 54 million pinks is predicted.

Trade reports say that supplies for wild and farmed salmon are down across the board and prices for both are increasing. Notably, Alaska's sockeye harvest was disappointing. And shipments of Chilean farmed salmon are on hold pending FDA inspections for a banned chemical.

'But's up

Remember two years ago when people were aghast at halibut quota share prices hitting $30 a pound? Well, they've gone even higher. A scan of top brokers shows the asking price has reached $50 for some IFQs in Southeast Alaska, with most going for $40 to $43 a pound.

Prices for halibut shares in the Central Gulf ranged from $30 to $38.

For sablefish, quota shares in Southeast were going for $26 to $32; slightly higher at west Yakutat, and $20 to $30 in the Central Gulf.

Fish bits

The year's first red king crab fishery is under way at Norton Sound, with a half-million-pound quota.

The Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast will end Aug. 8, a week earlier than usual, with a projected catch of 2.25 million pounds.

The golden king crab fishery begins way out along the Aleutians on Aug. 15. More than 6 million pounds will be hauled up.

Pollock boats are fishing in the Bering Sea. Pollock reopens in the Gulf on Aug. 25.

Comments extended

NOAA Fisheries has extended the public comment period for the proposed halibut catch-share plan for commercial and sport fishing charter operators through Aug. 26. The plan, which will allocate fish between the two sectors in Southeast Alaska and Central Gulf, is scheduled to be in place next year.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state or found at Contact her at

Laine Welch