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Alaska’s commercial salmon season is off to a mixed start

Salmon dominates the summer fishing headlines, but it’s among many other fisheries going on throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.

Alaska’s salmon season has gotten off to a mixed start, with strong catches in some regions over the past month and dismal hauls in others.

Good harvests have continued at the Copper River and more recently throughout Prince William Sound. That’s not been the case at Kodiak, Cook Inlet and Chignik, where fishing is off to a very slow start.

Trollers are targeting Chinook salmon in Southeast, and other salmon fisheries are popping up all over that region.

The state research vessel Pandalus is on its way to Port Moller to start sampling ahead of the big sockeye run expected in a few weeks at Bristol Bay.

State managers predict a total Alaska salmon catch this year of 230 million fish, 84 percent higher than 2018.

In other Alaska fisheries - A lingcod fishery reopened at East Yakutat on June 7 and Southeast’s shrimp beam trawl fishery reopens on July 1 with a 175,000 pound combined harvest of pink and sidestripes.

Fishing for Alaska pollock reopened on June 10 in the Bering Sea, where a catch this year will top three billion pounds. Hundreds of other Bering Sea and Gulf boats area also targeting cod, flounders, rockfish, and myriad other whitefish.

Alaska halibut longliners are nearing a catch of eight million pounds out of a 17 million pound catch limit. For sablefish, about 10 million pounds has crossed the docks from a 26 million pound quota.

Several summer crab fisheries are coming online: The Dungeness season opens in Southeast Alaska on June 15. State fishery managers will use catch stats from the first seven days to predict the harvest for the season. Last summer’s dungy fishery produced three million pounds.

The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery also opens on June 15 for a slightly increased catch topping seven million pounds.

A red king crab fishery will open at Norton Sound on June 26 for a 147,300 pound harvest.

Finally, a wrap up by state managers shows that 19 seiners set a record at Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in April with a 23,060-ton harvest. Fishermen got just $75 a ton for the roe herring making it worth $1.73 million at the docks.

Pebble pushback

As the July 1 deadline approaches for public comments on plans for the Pebble Mine, the project is getting unprecedented pushback from unexpected people and places, to the ire of the Dunleavy administration.

The City of Kodiak, Aleutians East Borough, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Trident Seafoods and 53 members of Congress are newly on record to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposing the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the massive copper and gold mine, saying it is flawed, inadequate and leaves more questions than answers.

At Kodiak, where over 500 resident fishermen and tenders work at Bristol Bay, city council members said in a comment letter that there is no discussion in the DEIS of how Pebble affects fisheries beyond the Bay and Cook Inlet.

“Any potential negative impacts, release of toxins or damage to the watershed and consequently on the fisheries at Bristol Bay, has the potential to have a profound impact on all our fisheries by damaging the Alaska brand,” said Councilman John Whiddon

Likewise, the Aleutians East Borough, representing six communities adjacent to the mine area, commented they were never invited for consultations, and discussions about impacts to their borough were “non-existent.” Mayor Alvin Osterback’s letter called the project “an avoidable risk” and said the best option is no Pebble Mine.

Similarly, a comment letter written by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommends that the potential impacts of large-scale mining be assessed not only for fish populations, but also “on both the value and reputation of North Pacific Fisheries.”

That had the Dunleavy administration calling foul at the recent NPFMC meeting in Sitka.

Deputy Commissioner of Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, Rachel Baker, entered the state’s formal opposition to the letter calling the Pebble DEIS “outside the Council’s purview” and “a distraction from the large number of fishery management issues on our agenda,” reported KCAW in Sitka.

In Congress, led by US Representative Jared Huffman of California who chairs the committee on water, oceans and wildlife, 53 House Democrats sent a letter last week to the Army Corps asking them to drop the Pebble Mine project because it would “destroy thousands of acres of wetlands in Alaska and threaten the most valuable wild salmon fishery in the world.”

“We urge the Corps to listen to the tribes, village corporations, commercial fishermen, hunters, anglers, and those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the integrity of the Bristol Bay watershed, and we urge the Corps to deny the permit for the Pebble Mine,” the letter said. Trident Seafoods, the largest seafood company in the U.S., has sent a letter to Alaska fishermen sharing its comments to the Army Corps that the Pebble Mine “poses a significant risk to the many families, businesses and communities that rely on the natural resources of Bristol Bay.” Finally, Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office in Washington, D.C. is being deluged with hundreds of net corks being sent by Alaskans with messages entreating her to stand with them in opposition to the Pebble Mine.

Building blue businesses

Seward is the first Alaska community to work with the Alaska Ocean Cluster to grow ocean-based businesses. A first cohort of four early-stage businesses that signed up with AOC’s Blue Pipeline Incubator last October has so far attracted $1.6 million from an investment goal of $2.3 million, 10 times more than anticipated.

“They include seafood manufacturing, ocean energy, mariculture and coastal tourism,” said Justin Sternberg, director of the Blue Pipeline Incubator in Seward which is a partnership with the AOC, the City and local Chamber of Commerce, UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Science, and the Alaska Small Business Development Center (ASBDC).

One business also filed a provisional patent on a new technology that won the Invention of the Year award at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“It’s a technology that pulls hydrogen out of ocean water that can then be stored as a battery for use later. It also de-acidifies the water,” Sternberg said. “If it proves to be commercially viable it would allow for a mass scale way to produce energy and at the same time reduce the carbon that is in the water creating acidification.”

Another Blue Pipeline company was a semi-finalist at the first Alaska Angel Conference last month in Anchorage, which brings investors and business startups together.

Sternberg said the cohorts receive mentoring and “MBA level training” that helps them “with the whole suite of starting a business from the idea all the way to the implementation to selling it down the road.” The Incubator also offered ASBDC support to 18 Seward businesses, including 2 new ones, with 8 new jobs created as a result.

Sternberg, who also helped launch Alaska’s kelp industry in Kodiak, said AOC collaborators are refining the Blue Pipeline to make sure it “fits the dynamics of entrepreneurship in Alaska communities” as they expand to more regions. The Alaska Ocean Cluster is a project of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.

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