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Business/Economy

Cook Inlet kelp harvest gets a closer look from managers and scientists

As more Alaskans eye the lucrative opportunities in growing kelp, many others are heading to beaches at lower Cook Inlet to commercially harvest the detached bunches that wash ashore. That practice is now getting a closer look by state managers and scientists and could result in new regulations by year’s end.

Detached kelp harvests have occurred at Lower Cook Inlet under special permits since the 1970s, but matters of who needs permits, for how much and for what purposes are not clearly defined. Currently, a special permit is needed for commercial takes.

“A commissioner’s permit is needed that describes where and when harvests will occur and how much will be taken. It needs to be documented thoroughly to make sure they are not taking the wrong species, or not taking from below the high tide line,” said Glenn Hollowell, area manager for finfish at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Homer.

Owners of the Anchor Point Greenhouse, for example, take 6,000 to 7,000 pounds from local beaches each September and over four decades they’ve created a booming business for a potting soil blend that is sold statewide.

In the past, the detached seaweed has been considered dead. More recently, it’s been discovered that many clumps continue to release live spores. Hollowell said that may mean it’s important to sustaining those kelp populations, and all that beached seaweed might also serve other purposes.

“Whether this is for reproductive reasons, or to provide shelter and food for a variety of wild animals, as well as a carbon source. It does feed a lot of other ecological needs. And we're just not certain that the wholesale removal of this stuff in large quantities might not have a negative impact on the ecosystem in general. So, we're approaching this very cautiously,” he explained.

The state Board of Fisheries will take up two detached and live kelp proposals at its Dec. 10-13 meeting in Seward. One (#21) submitted by Al Poindexter of the Anchor Point Greenhouse, aims to better identify the commercial harvest of detached kelp off of beaches.

“First, Fish and Game does not know production rates of seaweed and what keeps it sustainable. … Another issue is what is commercial or home use and what amounts are those?” Poindexter wrote. “For instance, I will collect 6 small pickups and it is called commercial, but my neighbor will collect 10 pickups for his berry patch and that is called home use. Another may just collect a bucket full for his flower patch. Who needs a permit and who doesn’t? And for what purpose? Does anyone get grandfathered in or who decides by what criteria, amounts, geographic area or timing? Parameters would be based on what data?

“At this time, I believe that out of all the folks who collect seaweed from the beach, I have been the only one who has been required to get a permit for this activity,” he concluded.

Another proposal (#241) would allow for the personal use harvest of aquatic plants in the Cook Inlet area outside of subsistence areas, similar to rules the Fish Board created in Southeast Alaska last year.

Researchers at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks are working with Fish and Game to learn what happens when kelp is removed from areas and how such harvests affect rejuvenation.

“The department wants to be very cautious as we start doing new things with it, to make sure that we don't allow something we will later regret. It might cause damage to that kelp population, or to other species of invertebrates or vertebrates that utilize it such as birds and fish,” Hollowell said.

The outcome of those projects, he added, will likely shape future regulations.

Comments can be made to the Board of Fisheries through Nov. 25.

Eating fish boosts IQ - For centuries what’s been regarded as an old wives’ tale has claimed that fish is brain food. Now there’s more proof that eating seafood does indeed make you smarter.

A report out last week by 13 leading dietary scientists declared that children whose mothers ate seafood during pregnancy gained an average 7.7 IQ points compared to children of moms who did not.

The findings came after a review of 44 different studies since 2000 that included nearly 103,000 mother-offspring pairs and over 25,000 children.

The brain benefits began with just one serving of seafood per week during pregnancy, and the beneficial outcomes appeared on tests given as early as three days of age and as late as 17 years.

Along with IQ, measures included verbal, visual and motor skill development. Four studies looked at hyperactivity and ADHD diagnoses and showed that kids of moms not eating seafood had nearly three times greater risk of hyperactivity.

The findings follow a report this year from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said U.S. children are not eating enough seafood.

Tom Brenna, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, said it’s the omega-3s in seafood that boost brain growth.

“The brain and the retina in the eye are omega-3 organs – you can say that as calcium is to the bones, omega 3 is to the brain.”

Brenna agreed it’s been tough to get the message to a wider audience.

“We don’t have a good a way of getting the word out. Maybe we should have a contest to find a nice tag line that would identify seafood in the same way as ‘Got Milk’ or ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,’ ” he added in a phone conversation.

The IQ boost from eating fish report comes as the U.S. is updating its dietary guidelines through 2025. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will meet five times through March 2020 and written comments are being accepted until the committee completes its work.

Salmon summaries - Prince William Sound’s salmon harvest this summer came in at nearly 58 million fish, of which almost 50 million were pinks. The estimated fishery value was $114 million, including hatchery sales, and paid out at $81,600 per permit on average for the fleet of 504 drift gillnetters; 238 seiners averaged $218,000 per permit. Revenue generated for hatchery operations was approximately $18.6 million.

At Copper River, a catch of nearly 1.3 million sockeye salmon was 28% more than the previous 10-year average, and the average sockeye weight of 5.5 pounds was the largest in the last five years.

Those are just a few of the details in season summaries that will continue to trickle in by region to Fish and Game.

At Lower Cook Inlet the 2019 salmon catch totaled 2.4 million fish, of which nearly 2 million were pinks. The commercial harvest value of nearly $3.6 million was above the 10-year average of $2.4 million.

At Norton Sound 145 permits were fished this summer, the second highest since 1993, and the fishery value topped $2 million for the third year in a row. The region saw well above average runs of chums, pinks, sockeyes and coho salmon. The chum salmon harvest of 157,035 was the third highest in the last 35 years.

At Alaska’s farthest north salmon fishery at Kotzebue the chum harvest topped 400,000 fish for only the tenth time ever for 93 participants. The value of more than $1.5 million was down a third from last year due to lower prices, but it was the fifth time since 1988 that it exceeded one million dollars.

Fishery managers at Bristol Bay were the first to come out with a season summary showing a preliminary fishery value at $306.5 million, an all-time record. A total take of 44.5 million salmon, of which 43 million were sockeyes, was the second largest in history since the 45.4 million fish taken in 1995.

Salmon summaries from other regions will soon follow and yield the preliminary dockside value for the entire 2019 fishery.

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