Fishermen use technology to stay educated, updated

As state lawmakers mull ways to update permitting laws to protect salmon habitat, a dual sweepstakes is using text messaging and social media as the means to keep more fishermen informed.

"One of the things we've learned over the past two years is that most fishermen are getting almost all of their information on their phones," said Lindsey Bloom, program manager for United Fishermen of Alaska's Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP).

"Since the start of this program we have heard from thousands of Alaska fishermen who say they care deeply about all issues related to salmon habitat, from ocean acidification and water quality to in-river impacts such as dewatering and blocked fish passage," Bloom added.

They also have learned that fishermen have a variety of preferred communication styles, and Bloom said the sweepstakes were created "to increase our reach to fishermen through multiple channels."

To test the waters, SHIP is encouraging fishermen to text "ufaship" to 313131, and UFA will send back four chances to win gift cards of up to $200 from Alaska Airlines or LFS Inc.

A second "Predict the Bay" contest at SHIP's Facebook page invites guesses of this year's Bristol Bay's total sockeye catch and offers similar prizes.

"Highlighting Bristol Bay is intentional, as it's an incredibly prolific fishery that is based on superb quality habitat," Bloom added.


Fishermen who opt in will receive monthly SHIP updates, as well as alerts about other issues.

"We are trying to incentivize participation and get the numbers up a little higher," Bloom said. "Throughout the year we'll be able to send out messages about what's going on with certain policies, whether it's at the federal level or state issues with the Board of Fish or the legislature or something else."

"We have a vast range of age groups who are participating in fishing and we're trying to get a better sense of how to best communicate and get the farthest reach for our efforts," she added.

Various state and federal agencies, such as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and NOAA, also are interested in bettering communication with fishermen, and Bloom said they are closely watching the SHIP outreach efforts to mirror what is most effective.

The sweepstakes also aims to boost membership in UFA, the nation's largest commercial fishing trade group.

"If habitat is as important of an issue as fishermen are telling us it is, it would be excellent if they would put some money where their mouths are and support UFA by signing up through the SHIP program," Bloom said.

Winners of the SHIP sweepstakes will be announced in September.

'Frankenfish' moves forward

Plans are in the works to send genetically modified salmon to markets in the U.S. and Canada by next year.

Despite an outpouring of nearly 2 million messages opposing the manmade fish, in 2015 it got the nod by the Food and Drug Administration. That followed a more than 20-year push by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts for approval of what will be the first GM animal OK'd for human consumption.

Health Canada approved the fish for consumption last year saying that fillets derived from so called AquAdvantage salmon "are as safe and nutritious as fillets from farmed Atlantic salmon."

Lab technicians at Prince Edward Island are currently creating fertilized Atlantic salmon eggs that include growth-enhancing DNA from two other fish that make them grow twice as fast as real salmon. The eggs will be shipped to growing tanks in Panama, and then transferred to a land based aquaculture system in Albany, Indiana. A second facility is also planned in Canada.

AquaBounty said they plan to produce 1,300 tons of "Frankenfish" annually starting in 2018.

Meanwhile, last week a bipartisan group of U.S. senators from Alaska, Washington and Oregon filed a Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act that would require any manmade salmon must be labeled as such.

The act also requires an independent third-party review of the environmental assessment process within the FDA.

"The primary purpose of this bill is to ensure that consumers have all the facts and can make an informed decision when they are purchasing salmon," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. "There's a huge difference between 'Frankenfish' and the wild, healthy, sustainably-caught, delicious real thing – and I want to make sure folks are aware of that. I will not accept that this 'fake fish' will be sold in stores without clear labeling."

"Additionally, this bill would create a much-needed review of the environmental assessment process within the FDA for the approval of these new species that are being created in labs," Murkowski added.


No matter how it pans out, the salmon will be a tough sell. More than 80 grocery chains and restaurants have stated they will not sell the genetically modified fish.

Wisdom on the airwaves

Older Alaska fishermen are taking to the radio airwaves to offer career advice to new and younger industry entrants.

It's part of a wrap up of a three-year study that has attempted to define the problems associated with the "graying of the fleet" and to find ways to turn the tide.

The average Alaska fisherman today is over 50, a decade older than the average of a generation ago.

Since limited entry programs began in state fisheries in the late 1970s, permit holdings by local rural residents have declined by 30 percent. The trend is similar in federal fisheries since the mid-1990s, with Gulf of Alaska communities showing a 53 percent decline in individual fishing quota holdings.

The lack of recruits threatens the healthy succession of fishing as an economic and cultural mainstay in Alaska's communities, and creates a public policy concern for Alaska, concludes the "Next Generation of Fishermen Study" done by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Sea Grant.

"It is getting more and more challenging for young people to enter into our fisheries and once they are there, to make sure their fishing businesses are viable and successful," said Danielle Ringer, a UAF researcher.


The project, which targeted Kodiak and the Bristol Bay region, included more than 130 interviews with permit holders, processors and other stakeholders to identify problems and come up with ways to attract more industry participants.

The group has compiled a white paper that speaks to policy solutions called "Turning the Tide – How Alaska can address the Graying of the Fleet and Loss of Fisheries Access."

"It summarizes current efforts in Alaska, as well as in other U.S. fisheries and other nations to address access problems," Ringer said.

The researchers also have launched a serious of public service announcements for Alaska radio stations in which fishermen pass along tips on how to improve their success in a fishing career.

Throughout the three-year project, Ringer said there was one agreement among all fishermen.

"They love fishing!" she said. "And they want people to keep doing it and they want it to continue to be a thriving industry."

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Laine Welch | Fish Factor

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based journalist who writes a weekly column, Fish Factor, that appears in newspapers and websites around Alaska and nationally. Contact her at