October is National Seafood Month, a distinction bestowed by Congress 30 years ago to recognize one of America's oldest industries.
Alaska merits special recognition because its fishing fleets provide 65 percent of the nation's wild caught seafood, more than all of the other states combined.
Ironically, there is little to no fanfare in Alaska during seafood month. My hometown of Kodiak (the No. 2 U.S. fishing port), for example, never gives a shout out to our fishermen and processors, nor do local restaurants celebrate seafood on their October menus in any way.
That's not the case elsewhere in the USA.
To launch Seafood Month, 250 fans across the nation will be holding house parties on Sept. 30 to sing seafood's praises, swap and compete with recipes and, ultimately, get more Americans to pledge to eat more fish. (Join the conversation at #seafoodparty.)
The house parties are sponsored by the non-profit Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which has a single goal: to inspire Americans to include more seafood into their diets for improved health. The SNP operates grass-roots programs in large cities in Alabama, West Virginia, Indiana, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Ohio and Georgia.
The group also will hold a series of Heart Healthy Summits during October in five states, sponsored in part by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
"We are celebrating the third year of our public health campaign by coming together with the communities for a half-day session to learn about the progress that's been made in each city, and how we can continue the movement of helping everyone understand the need to eat sustainable seafood," said Linda Cornish, SNP president.
The message is getting across, based on annual tracking in the target cities.
"We're happy to share that one in three Americans over the past year has intentionally added seafood to their diets. That's not to say they are eating it twice a week, but they've added more seafood to make sure they are eating healthier," Cornish said.
Learn more at www.seafoodnutrition.org.
Fish bill lives
A proposed ballot initiative that aimed to modernize Alaska's 60-year-old salmon habitat protection and permitting laws was denied (and quickly appealed) last week, but the move remains very much alive in the Alaska Legislature.
Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, will hold meetings around the state to build support for the Wild Salmon Legacy Act (House Bill 199) she introduced last session.
The draft bill says that it "protects the interest of subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fishermen while creating efficiency and predictability in permitting and enforcement."
"My intent is not to put any resource out of business. We all are trying to make a living here," Stutes said in a phone interview. "My intent is to ensure that our fisheries continue in a sustainable manner with their waterways maintained in a clean, safe way."
The Legacy Act presumes that all state waterways are anadromous, meaning paths for salmon returning from the ocean to spawn in their home streams. It also specifies that the burden of proving a stream is not anadromous would fall to a developer.
Stutes believes that will save the state millions of dollars.
"Let's face it. I think we have all come to the conclusion that we cannot continue to depend on oil as our mainstream income. We have to diversify. And in the meantime, we all have to tighten our belts. The state cannot continue to pay these huge costs," she said.
Under current law, each water body must be sampled and added to the Anadromous Waters Catalog. The catalog serves as the trigger for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's authority to manage fisheries habitat and issue permits. Currently, less than 50 percent of Alaska's anadromous waters are now listed in the AWC.
"Right there it's going to save millions in labor just by saying that we will consider all waterways and streams are anadromous unless proven otherwise," she said.
Rep. Stutes, who also chairs the legislative Fisheries Committee, will travel to Fairbanks, the Mat-Su and Bethel in advance of next year's session, when many hearings will be held on the salmon bill.
Crab knuckle biter
Bering Sea crabbers have gotten a first glimpse at how their upcoming fisheries may – or may not – play out.
Crab managers and stakeholders met in Seattle last week to review results of the summer trawl surveys for snow crab, bairdi Tanners and red king crab at Bristol Bay. Overall, the slow growing stocks appear to be declining, but there were several encouraging signs.
For snow crab — Alaska's largest crab fishery — the abundance of mature males, the only crabs allowed to be retained for sale, was at its lowest on record. The number of young male snow crab recruits, however, was the highest since 1995. The numbers of mature and young female snow crabs also showed big increases.
Industry watchers say chances look hopeful that there will be a snow crab fishery, similar to or smaller than last season's 21.5 million-pound catch.
For bairdi Tanners, snow crab's bigger cousin, the number of mature males dropped in both eastern and western fishing districts. The number of female crabs increased significantly, and young male Tanners also appear to be on an upswing.
The Tanner crab fishery was called off last year, after a 20 million-pound catch the previous season. An opener this fall is still anyone's guess.
Likewise, a red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay is also an unknown. The fishery produced 7.6 million pounds last year.
The summer survey showed the number of adult males at the lowest point in five years. Young male crabs, however, showed a 10 percent hike and the number of young females doubled, boding well for the future.
Crabbers have their fingers crossed they will get to drop pots in all three fisheries, said Tyson Fick, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.
"You have to look at these across multiple years," Fick said. "Hopefully, the trends we've seen in this year's survey will continue and that will allow for a little bump up in harvests."