Here are Fish Factor’s annual fishing picks and pans for 2018 — a no-holds-barred look back at some of the year’s best and worst fishing highlights, in no particular order, and my choice for the biggest fish story of the year.
Biggest new industry potential: Mariculture. Growing shellfish and seaweeds could be a $100 million Alaska industry in 20 years, according to a comprehensive state report. Kelp farms are cropping up around Kodiak and, along with food makers, the Energy Department already has its sights on Alaska for biofuels from macroalgae.
Best fish sigh of relief: Many Gulf fishermen began using pots instead of hooks to keep whales from robbing their pricey sablefish catches, called “getting whaled.”
Best fish visionaries: Tidal Vision of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the U.S. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to filters to pharmaceuticals.
Best fish legislators: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan.
Best fish knowledge sharers: Alaska Sea Grant.
Best fish giver: Sea Share, with over 220 million fish servings to U.S. food banks since 1994. The program began as a way to use bycatch caught in Bering Sea fisheries.
Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters versus crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska.
Most earth-friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into high-quality oils and meals.
Biggest fish WTF?: Rick (Rydell) Green being chosen as a special assistant to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner to “restore trust” in the department. Green was a talk show host on KENI-AM 650.
Scariest fish stories: Ocean acidification and warming oceans.
Best daily fish news site: SeafoodNews.com.
Best fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, Salmon Beyond Borders.
Best new fish economist: Garrett Evridge, McDowell Group.
Best go to bat for their fish: Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP); the fishermen-funded and -operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association
Best fish motivators: The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association’s Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, which promotes blue economy business ideas and entrepreneurs.
Best fish mainstream push: The Get Ugly crab campaign by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Older crabs with shells that are discolored, scarred or covered with barnacles can constitute 30 percent of the catch in Bering Sea fisheries, according to Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. The “ugly” crab can be a turn-off for buyers. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” the campaign says, adding that the older crabs often have better meat fills.
Biggest fish bust: 25 percent tariffs on nearly all U.S. seafood products going to and from China. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer, purchasing 54 percent of our seafood exports last year valued at $1.3 billion.
Best industry entrepreneurs: Salmon Sisters of Homer.
Best eco-friendly fish feat: The removal of hundreds of thousands of pounds of old fishing nets, lines and gear from Dutch Harbor and Kodiak by Nicole Baker’s “net your problem” program. The nets are shipped to Europe, where they are recycled into plastic products.
Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon, or “frankenfish.”
Biggest fish raised eyebrows: Offshore fish farms being proposed by the Trump administration. Backers that include Cargill, Pacific Seafood, Red Lobster, High Liner Foods, Sysco and Seattle Fish Co. are pushing a bill in the U.S. Senate called Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act that will streamline the permitting process for offshore aquaculture projects.
Best new fish writers: Elizabeth Earl, Alaska Journal of Commerce; Alistair Gardiner, Kodiak Daily Mirror.
Worst fish travesty: Commercial and sport fishermen get cuts every year while millions of pounds of halibut are allowed to be taken as bycatch in other fisheries. It’s getting better, but still a long way to go.
Best fish assists: Every person at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and NOAA Fisheries Alaska.
Best go to bat for its future fishermen: Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Sitka.
Best fish show-offs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 26 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation.
Biggest fish uncertainty: Dunleavy administration.
Best fish switch: Herring taken for its roe pays $100-$350 per ton in a fading Japanese market; herring used for food and bait can fetch up to $2,000 per ton. (While many fishermen pay over $1 per pound for bait herring from the East Coast.) Time for a management shift?
Biggest fish opportunity: Turning Alaska’s 3 billion pounds of fish heads, skins, internal organs and other “wastes” into pet foods, neutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, etc. An Analyses of Specialty Alaska Seafood Products report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute says using byproducts could be worth an additional $700 million or more to the industry.
Biggest fish disappointments: Salmon catches throughout the Gulf of Alaska were the lowest in 50 years in some regions. Likewise, catches of cod, halibut and Bering Sea crab also tumbled.
Best fish boosters: Alaska’s salmon hatcheries.
Biggest fish story: Alaska fish are changing their behavior in search of colder waters. No sea ice in the winter of 2018 in the Bering Sea led to the disappearance of the “cold pool,” a big tongue of bottom water that corresponds to the usual southward extent of the ice cover. That’s led to more than half of the cod biomass being found in regions north of the normal surveys, as well as a big plug of pollock. There also was a 20 percent increase in the density of Pacific halibut from a year ago in the northern Bering Sea.