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Efficient Kodiak fishing vessel gets look from ‘Mighty Ships’ program

Demonstrating enviable efficiency, F/V Northern Leader of Kodiak will take a star turn on the popular "Mighty Ships" cable TV program.

"Mighty Ships" producers search for unique ships around the world. Its seven-year run has featured a range of vessels including cruise ships, aircraft carriers, cargo ships, dredgers and more. The programs focus on the operational capabilities and technical aspects of the ships while making use of computer-generated animation to show underwater operations.

What attracted them to the 184-foot freezer-longliner Northern Leader is its joystick-controlled, eco-friendly propulsion system that runs on electricity — the first U.S. fishing vessel to do so — and its head-to-tail use of the fish it catches.

"That's the sweet spot — fully using the fish," said Keith Singleton, vice president of marketing for Alaskan Leader Seafoods, a company started by Kodiak fishermen in 1991 that now owns four fishing vessels in partnership with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

The 3-year-old Northern Leader fishes primarily for Bering Sea cod. Says Discovery: "Catching fish with hooks, not nets, she sends out 80 kilometers of fishing line containing 76,000 hooks. In the heart of the Bering Sea, her crew battles a hurricane with 13-meter-high waves and winds of more than 100 kilometers per hour."

As it was being designed, Singleton said the group traveled several times to Iceland to select processing equipment that would fully utilize each fish.

Consequently, every fish coming over the rail gets bled and run through a chilled tank that produces "amazing snow-white" filets that fetch a much higher price, Singleton said. All of the fish heads go into a grinder for use in the pet food industry.

"The head is 25-27 percent of the entire animal, so that's a big number. And if you can monetize that, it really helps the bottom line," he added. "It pays the crew better, and it fills up the holds faster and makes for shorter fishing trips, and that saves on fuel."

"We also have a customer that takes 100 percent of the livers for cod liver oil, and a skin customer that takes all of the cod skins. Right now we're trying to find markets for the other viscera," he added.

Singleton said the "Mighty Ships" invitation is one of the company's proudest moments, as it will be aired in 169 countries to more than 40 million viewers.

"More than anything it's really going to give the Alaska seafood industry some great press," Singleton said. "It isn't about us, it's about all of us."

A free premiere showing of the F/V Northern Leader program, along with a catered cod dinner, is set for June 10 at the Afognak Center in Kodiak.

Kodiak groundfish festival

Emphasizing the importance of groundfish to Alaska's seafood portfolio is the goal of trawl groups hosting a festival and parade 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 11 in downtown Kodiak.

The event, backed by the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association and the Groundfish Data Bank, features free seafood dishes, a pie toss and other games, prizes and raffles — with all proceeds going to the Brother Francis Shelter.

"This is a positive means of promoting our industry and shedding some light on how important groundfish fisheries are to the economy of Kodiak," said fisherman Paddy O'Donnell.

The event happens as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes in Kodiak for a weeklong meeting dominated by plans to carve up 25 different kinds of groundfish catches among trawlers. The new plan aims to reduce unwanted bycatch of halibut, salmon and other species taken by trawl nets in the Gulf of Alaska.

Some 65 trawl vessels target pollock, cod and other groundfish throughout the Gulf; 40 of them consider Kodiak their home port. Groundfish made up 83 percent of all Kodiak landings in 2014, totaling 273 million pounds. That's an increase from 57 million pounds in 2009.

Oily — yet fishy — profits

The biggest boom in the Alaska groundfish sector has come from fish oils, nearly all from pollock.

Two years ago, nearly 28,500 tons of fish oil worth $32 million was produced, primarily by Alaska shore-side processors — a 271 percent increase in value from 2005.

Do the math and that averages out to $1.78 a pound.

Prices for Alaska crude grade fish oil rose from an average $436 per ton in 2004 to $1,130 a ton in 2014.

Fish destinations

Ever wonder where all that Alaska fish ends up? Seafood is by far Alaska's largest and most-valuable export — nearly 2.5 billion pounds valued at $3.28 billion in 2014.

A new report, Where Do Alaska Fish Go, profiles the markets for groundfish and crab, which together accounted for 80 percent of Alaska's total seafood volume and 65 percent of the first wholesale value.

"It tells a story of Alaska fisheries products — where they are going, who the consumers are on the other end and what the competing species are — things that unless you're really involved in the market, you might not know," said Ben Fissel, an economist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. The center collaborated with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and McDowell Group on the project.

"The idea was to produce a document that tells the story of what happens to the fish once it leaves the primary processors in Alaska. And we also wanted to put numbers behind it," Fissel said.

Here are a few numbers through 2014:

* Alaska's fisheries are the most productive in the nation, accounting for 60 percent of total U.S. harvests.

* Alaska fishermen produce 18 percent of the world's cod harvest.

* Pacific Ocean perch is Alaska's most abundant rockfish species — in a state that boasts 70 varieties.

* Alaska produces 65 percent of the world's sablefish (black cod). Some 80 percent goes to Japan.

* Three-quarters of Alaska's halibut goes out frozen to U.S. restaurants and grocery stores. Ditto, Alaska king and snow crab.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based commercial fishing columnist. Contact her at msfish@alaskan.com

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