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Alaska fishing picks and pans for 2015

The new year marks a quarter of a century for this weekly column that targets Alaska's seafood industry.

At the end of every year, I proffer a look back at what I consider the best and worst fish stories while selecting the biggest story of the year.

The list is in no particular order and I'm surely missing a few, but here are the Fishing Picks and Pans for 2015:

Most eco-friendly fish feat: The massive airlift/barge project led by the Department of Environmental Conservation that removed more than 800,000 pounds of marine debris from remote Alaska beaches.

Best new fish service: Print-at-home fishing licenses (and more) by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon, i.e., Frankenfish.

Best fish financial potential: Mariculture for more shellfish, sea "vegetables," shrimp?

Worst fish kick the can: Department of Natural Resources' stall on a salmon vs. coal mine water rights decision at the Chuitna watershed in Upper Cook Inlet. DNR awarded a small reservation to protect salmon while allowing more time for PacRim to prove that building Alaska's largest coal mine won't hurt salmon and the ecosystem.

Biggest fish hurry up: Electronic monitoring systems to replace fishery observers on small boats. Not much extra bunk space on a 40-footer.

Best fish quick fix: The JDBeltz by Anne Morris of Sand Point — a horizontal Vicky knife holder that prevents leg pokings.

Best fish sigh of relief: Federal fish managers allowing the use of pots, instead of longlines, to catch black cod. The gear shift prevents whales from stripping the pricey fish from hooks, leaving only the lips. Fishermen call it "getting whaled."

Best fish visionary: Tidal Vision LLC 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 pharmaceuticals.

Best fish fighters: The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers for fighting to get tasty, "kid approved" fish meals into school lunch programs, and for getting the pollock name corrected on federal food lists to guarantee the fish is top quality.

Best fish energy booster: Bob Varness of Juneau for a first-in-the-nation electric-powered passenger boat, the E/V Tongass Rain, which should be out on the water doing ecotours this summer. Next up: all-electric fishing boats.

Best fishing career builders: University of Alaska Southeast, Kodiak College for low-cost courses in vessel hydraulics, electronics, maintenance and repairs, fish technicians and more. Most are available online.

Best Fish Givers: SeaShare, on its way to donating 200 million fish meals to food bank networks since 1994.

Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska.

Best fish boosters: Juneau Economic Development Council for ramping up the visibility of the local fishing/processing sector, and envisioning big opportunities in mariculture and fish "co-products."

Fondest fish farewell: Ray RaLonde, who retired from Alaska Sea Grant after decades of creating and nurturing the state's fledgling mariculture industry.

Saddest fish story: The sudden and untimely death of Greg Fisk, fisheries advocate and newly elected Juneau mayor.

Most Earth-friendly fishing town: Kodiak, which generates nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower. Kodiak also turns its fish wastes into oils and meals at a "gurry" plant owned by local processors, and the city plans to turn its sludge water into compost.

Best fish gadget: SCraMP iPhone app with vessel stability indicators. It's free.

Most encouraging fish pols: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

Scariest fish story: Ocean acidification. The corrosion of crab/scallop/oyster/snail shells is documented and happening fastest in Arctic waters.

Biggest fish brush-off: Alaska's congressional delegation, which has voted to tank every climate change/clean air/clean water measure that has come before Congress in favor of fossil fuels. No comments on the 200-plus nation climate accord in Paris. How will that play in Kivalina?

Best fish-to-kids project: The fabulous Fish to Schools Resource Guide by the Sitka Conservation Society.

Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Best global fish story: The U.S. and other nations cracking down on illegal, undocumented and unreported catches by fish pirates, which make up an estimated 20 percent of the global fish harvest.

Best daily fish news site: Seafood.com; Pacific Fishing Magazine's Fish Wrap.

Best fish watchers: Trustees for Alaska; Cook Inletkeeper.

Best new fish writer: DJ Summers, Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Best fish economists: Gunnar Knapp, ISER; Andy Wink, McDowell Group.

Worst fish travesty: Halibut catches for commercial and sport users slashed every year while fishing fleets take millions of pounds as bycatch. It's getting better, but still a long way to go.

Best go-to-bat for fishermen/fishing towns: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, for its Caught by Alaskan for Alaskans programs, which it aims to expand statewide.

Most ambitious fish dilemma: Plan to reduce bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, which will include apportioning 25 different types of groundfish among all user groups.

Tastiest new family fish products: Trident's Ultimate Fish Sticks; Pickled Willy's Smoked Black Cod Tips.

Best fish partnership: Golden king crabbers and state biologists teaming up to do the first stock surveys that span 800 miles along the Aleutian Islands.

Best fish show-offs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 23 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation.

Biggest fish story: Price for Bristol Bay reds dropping to 50 cents a pound, a nearly 70 percent drop from 2014. A perfect storm of adverse global currencies, big inventories and record U.S. imports of farmed salmon could lead to a similar price in 2016.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based commercial fishing columnist. Contact her at msfish@alaskan.com.

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