Dutch Harbor remained the top fishing port in the U.S. for the 22nd year in a row with 763 million pounds crossing the docks in 2018 valued at $182 million. And Naknek ranked as the nation’s second most valuable port for fishermen with landings worth $195 million. (Naknek also ranked No. 8 for landings at 191 million pounds.)
Empire-Venice, Louisiana, held the second spot for fish volume (569 million). The “Aleutians” was close behind (539 million), thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the largest processing facility in North America. Kodiak fell to fourth place with landings dropping from 530 million pounds to 391 million in 2018.
Those are just a few of the gems in the annual Fisheries of the U.S. Report, described as “a yearbook of fishery statistics on commercial landings and values, recreational fishing, aquaculture production, imports and exports and per capita consumption” by Cisco Werner, chief scientist at NOAA Fisheries, who gave highlights to reporters Friday.
“U.S. fishermen landed 9.4 billion pounds valued at about $5.6 billion, an increase of $150 million, or 2.8% from 2017. That’s on par with recent years with economic benefits both up and down depending on the seafood supply chain,” Werner added.
New Bedford, Massachusetts, claimed its 19th consecutive title of bringing in the most valuable catch at $431 million, due mostly to the sea scallop fishery.
Other Alaska-related highlights:
Alaska provided 58% of U.S. wild seafood (5.4 billion pounds). Alaska also led all states in the value of landings at $1.8 billion, 32% of the total U.S. value.
Alaska accounted for 97% of U.S. salmon landings; the average Alaska price per pound for all species was 99 cents, an increase of 34 cents from 2017.
The 2018 average price paid to U.S. fishermen across the board was 59 cents per pound compared to 55 cents per pound in 2017.
The six highest-valued U.S. seafoods were lobster ($684 million), crab ($645 million), salmon ($598 million), scallops ($541 million), shrimp ($496 million) and Alaska pollock ($451 million).
The value of U.S. farmed seafood totaled $1.5 billion in 2017, about 21% of the value of total seafood production. The top marine aquaculture species were oysters, clams and salmon.
As much as 85% to 95% of seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from elsewhere. For 2018, the U.S. imported $22.4 billion worth of edible seafood and exported $5.6 billion, a $16.8 million trade deficit.
Production of U.S. seaweed increased 186% from 2016 to 2017 to 69,053 pounds valued at $68,698. Data indicate the rapid rise in farmed seaweed production will continue. (Kelp production from Kodiak reached nearly 90,000 pounds in 2018.)
Americans ate slightly more seafood — 16.1 pounds, the highest per capita consumption since 2007 and a 0.1 pound increase from 2017, but still well below the government’s recommendation to eat two seafood meals every week.
Kodiak kelp goes retail
Dried kelp from Kodiak is the first Alaska seaweed poised to make a splash at hundreds of retail stores across the U.S. It’s the debut product for Kodiak growers in their partnership with Blue Evolution, the California-based company that has pioneered the kelp industry in Alaska.
The strips of dried ribbon and sugar kelp can be rehydrated or broken up and tossed in salads, rice or broths. The new product’s snazzy, biodegradable packaging promotes the nutritional power and purity of Alaska kelp and support for local, family owned farms. Founder and CEO Beau Perry said of all Alaska regions, Kodiak fits the bill.
“Geography, currents, growing space, local stakeholder attitudes, the large fleet, logistics capacity — and we want to be accessible to processing for fresh delivery of raw material. Kodiak ended up ranking the best despite it being very remote, even by Alaska standards,” Perry said.
Kodiak growers will expand from 40 acres to 100 acres this year, with more in the works around the island. Perry said drying kelp is a challenge in Alaska because large volumes are landed in short periods of time and the bulk of the pack is going into a completely new market.
“I would say well over 90% of our product is going into a blanched frozen product that you may not see on the shelves, but that we’re starting to move to high-end restaurants, food service and manufacturing down in the Lower 48,” Perry said.
Alaska’s fledgling kelp industry faces a lot of organizational challenges in the short term, Perry added, but he believes the possibilities are limitless.
“I think Alaska can be one of the great seaweed producing regions on the planet and that it will have a transformative effect within the state,” Perry said. “That’s the vision we’re pursuing. I’m sure we won’t be alone in that, but we definitely have put ourselves in a leadership position and we want to spread that vision and build a business around it. Because if we do it right, it could be a very big deal indeed.”
Find store locations or order the Alaska dried kelp online at blueevolution.com.
Salmon that get their start in Alaska hatcheries are intended to enhance wild runs and the program will again be featured during the Board of Fisheries’ final meeting next month in Anchorage.
A hatchery committee was formed last year to better inform the board on operations of the state’s 25 private, nonprofit facilities.
“It’s to educate themselves about the hatchery program and if hard decisions have to be made about allocations or where fish can be released or harvested, it’s to their benefit to understand the program and the science behind it so they can make informed decisions,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.
On March 6, a 12-member science panel will present to invited board members and to the hatchery committee, which will hold its meeting the following day. Reifenstuhl said most of the presentations will come from state managers on regulations and oversight and what the hatcheries produce each year.
“For the coastal communities, the hatchery program is a lifesaver for many of the people who fish for a living. It gives about 25% of the salmon harvest and that supplementation is a critical component for their business model,” he added.
Critics of the hatchery program claim that too many tiny salmon are released each year and pose threats to the purity and health of wild stocks. The science panel will update research that has been underway since 2013 on pink salmon in Prince William Sound and chums in Southeast that aims to answer those questions. Reifenstuhl said the salmon study runs through 2024.
“Why it takes so long is that we are looking at two full life cycles of chum salmon, which is roughly five to six years, and we’re also doing two full life cycles of pink salmon, which just ended last year. Those results should be out by year’s end,” he said.
Alaska’s hatcheries in 2018 contributed 34% of the statewide commercial salmon harvest and 30% of the dockside value. The hatcheries are funded by a fishermen’s tax and sales of a portion of the returning fish and receive no state dollars.
You can tune in online to hear both the March 6 presentation and the hatchery committee meeting on March 7.