North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets next week in Homer

Federal stewards of Alaska’s fisheries will meet in Homer for the first time since 1983 as they continue their pursuit of involving more people in policy making.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 10, the Spit will be aswarm with entourages of the 15-member North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees more than 25 stocks in waters from 3 to 200 miles offshore, the source of most of Alaska’s fish volumes.

The NPFMC is one of eight regional councils established by the Magnuson-(Ted) Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 that booted foreign fleets to waters beyond 200 miles and “Americanized” the Bering Sea fisheries.

“The council certainly is interested in engaging more stakeholders, particularly from rural and Alaska Native communities, and by going to more coastal communities, it allows them more opportunity for input into the process,” said Dave Witherell, council executive director, who added that in recent years the council has expanded beyond Kodiak, Juneau and Sitka to convene in Nome and Dutch Harbor.

At Homer, following the lead of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, a first-ever “Intro to the Council Process” workshop will be held to make the policy process less daunting. Witherell said that came at the suggestion of the council’s local engagement committee created in 2018.

“It’s quite a steep learning curve to understand all the ins and outs and goings on at a council meeting and what’s written in our analyses,” Witherell said. “We’re trying to open it up so that someone who may not follow or live and breathe the council process can still participate. We’re trying to put it out there in plain language.”

Plain language is also what you’ll find on the revamped NPFMC website. All postings of meeting agendas, document overviews, etc. are in a “conversational style” and have been consolidated in one place, said Maria Davis, council IT specialist.

“Some of the topics are very complex so distilling them down into two or three sentences may not be exactly what is happening, but it gives them a large overview. Then you can read the analysis if you’re really interested in a lot of the detail,” she said, adding that searchable digital content is included back to 2014.

“It’s so easy to find documents and it’s so easy for the staff to upload their documents,” Davis said. “There’s also a public comment portal where you can read comments and you can upload your comments for committee and council meetings under each agenda item. It’s very user friendly and you get a return email that says thank you, your comment has been received and council members and the general public can see it immediately. It’s really been a game changer as far as accessibility for the public.”

The council members know that the topics they discuss and the decisions they make affect many who are not directly involved in fishing, Davis said.

“It’s also all the businesses where you live year round and the communities,” she said. “We want to hear from them and we want to make it easy and not intimidating.”

The industry will get a first glimpse at potential 2021 catches of Alaska pollock, cod, sablefish, rockfish, flounders and other whitefish at the Homer meeting.

More Alaska women in fish

Witherell stepped up to the NPFMC executive director role two years ago when after 16 years Chris Oliver moved to Washington, D.C., to take the helm at NOAA Fisheries.

Witherell chose Diana Evans to be deputy director, the first woman to hold that position. Evans has worked as a fishery analyst for the council since 2002.

At the Homer meeting, two women also will be newly seated to replace Theresa Peterson of Kodiak and Buck Laukitis of Homer, whose terms have expired.

Cora Campbell and Nicole Kimball have previously represented Alaska on the NPFMC but they now will be industry representatives. Campbell, a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is now CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods. Kimball served for many years as federal fisheries coordinator for Fish and Game and now is vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association.

Carina Nichols of Sitka was hired by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan as a new legislative assistant focusing on fisheries. Nichols has fished for sablefish and halibut in Southeast and salmon at Bristol Bay. She also has been a member of the NPFMC Advisory Panel.

“I am glad to welcome Carina to my team in Washington, D.C. Her many years of experience both working on the water and in fisheries policy brings a depth and breadth of knowledge about the issues facing Alaska’s fisheries and coastal communities that will be invaluable in guiding my work serving Alaskans,” Sullivan said in an emailed message.

Big Bay payday!

Bristol Bay salmon fishermen are set to take home their biggest paychecks ever. The 2019 preliminary exvessel (dockside) value of $306.5 million for all salmon species ranks first in the history of the fishery and was 248 percent of the 20-year average of $124 million, according to a Fish and Game statement.

The 2019 sockeye salmon run of 56.5 million fish was the fourth largest, and it was the fifth consecutive year that inshore runs topped 50 million fish.

The all-species harvest of 44.5 million is the second largest on record, after the 45.4 million taken in 1995. This year over 43 million of the Bristol Bay salmon harvest was sockeyes.

Here are the 2019 salmon base prices at Bristol Bay with comparisons to 2018 in parentheses:

• Sockeyes - $1.35 per pound ($1.26)

• Chinook - $0.50 ($0.80)

• Chums - $0.25 ($0.43)

• Pinks - $0.05 ($0.20)

• Cohos - $0.55 ($0.80)

The weight, harvest and price of each species were used to estimate values and do not include future price adjustment for icing, bleeding or production bonuses.

Fish guts go plastic

A 23-year-old student at the University of Sussex in England has invented a biodegradable plastic bag made from fish guts.

Lucy Hughes was bothered by the “unwanted offcuts” from seafood processing that are dumped each year and discovered that red algae along the local coastline worked as a binding agent.

SeafoodNews reports that Hughes used the algae to bind together the fish waste proteins into a translucent, plastic-like material that biodegrades in four to six weeks.

Initial testing suggests that it is stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based plastic counterpart. Hughes plans to commercialize her product as MarinaTex.

“For me, MarinaTex represents a commitment to material innovation and selection by incorporating sustainable, local and circular values into design,” she said. “As creators, we should not limit ourselves in designing to just form and function, but rather form, function and footprint.”