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Sullivan getting immersed in fishery issues in Congress

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has scored seats on nearly every congressional committee that deals with issues on, over and under the oceans, fulfilling a commitment he made to Kodiak when he ran for office two years ago.

When he visited Kodiak last week, Sullivan ticked off a list of fishery-related actions he's had a hand in getting accomplished over the last year: passage of an enforcement act to combat global fish pirating and seafood fraud; adding language to bills that lift pricey classification requirements on new fishing vessels; and a one-year water discharge exemption so fishermen don't need special permits to hose down their decks.

He said he is "working to make sure new regulations don't place an undue burden on the industry.

"We hear about overregulation … from every single group I've met with," Sullivan said. "We all want clean water and a safe environment, but we have federal agencies that are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to these regulations and it can be crushing on what you all do. I hear it loud and clear."

When it comes to Alaska fisheries, Sullivan said he's guided by three core principles:

• Science is the foundation for sustainability;

• Seafood is the engine for strong coastal economies, and

• Creating new markets.

"We've been looking at ways structurally to create more demand for Alaska seafood," he said, citing recent legislation added to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to fix a seafood oversight.

"The authorizing legislation said our trade negotiators have to achieve objectives to open markets for different industry groups, such as agriculture, high tech, textiles," Sullivan said. "Guess what industry was not in the bill — seafood. So my team drafted legislation that said in any future trade agreements, the U.S. has to get access for our fisheries and fish products in foreign markets, and go after the subsidies of foreign fleets that unfairly compete against us. It passed and was signed by the president. So all trade agreements for the next six years must have major provisions focused on opening markets for U.S. seafood products."

On the homefront, Sullivan said he is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require the nation's school lunch program to only include fish caught in U.S. waters.

"In my view, we should not be feeding our kids fish that is caught in Russian waters and then processed in China and injected with phosphates," Sullivan said. "If our kids get fed fish that is not very good, you turn off a generation until they get about 30 or 40 and get over the fact that the fish sticks they had in second grade made them not like seafood."

Hauls of hatchery salmon

Each year, more than a third of Alaska's salmon catch comes from fish that started life in hatcheries before being deposited in the ocean.

That's very different from fish farming, where salmon are crammed into nets or pens until ready for market. In Alaska's salmon enhancement program — which began in the early 1970s in response to low statewide runs — all fish originate as eggs from wild stocks, and are released as fingerlings to the sea. Most of the salmon grown in Alaska's 29 hatcheries are pinks and chums.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's annual Alaska Fisheries Enhancement Report, the 2015 salmon season produced the second-highest catch for hatchery fish — some 93 million with a dockside value of $125 million.

Pink salmon accounted for 47 percent of the value of the statewide hatchery harvest, followed by chum salmon at 31 percent, sockeyes at 17 percent, cohos at 3 percent and chinook salmon at 2 percent of the value.

By far, most of Alaska's hatchery production is in Prince William Sound; last year's 74 million hatchery harvest was worth nearly $80 million — or 67 percent of the sound's total salmon value.

Southeast ranks second for hatchery production, which last year yielded about 11 million fish worth $37 million, or 42 percent of the total ex-vessel salmon value for the region.

Kodiak's two hatcheries produced more than 5 million pink salmon last season, valued at $4.5 million — or 12 percent of the total salmon value.

In Cook Inlet, about 2.4 million hatchery sockeyes were caught, valued at more than $3 million — or 10 percent of the fishery value.

Nearly 150 Alaska schools participate in hatchery egg-take and salmon-release programs.

Fishing amps up across Alaska

• Kodiak's roe herring fishery begins April 15 with a low 1,670 ton harvest limit. Alaska's biggest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay will follow with a catch pegged at nearly 30,000 tons. There's lots of herring in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region but no buyers. A small herring fishery may occur this summer at Norton Sound.

• A fleet of 84 vessels signed up for a six-day, 47,061 pound pot shrimp fishery set to open in Prince William Sound April 15.

• In Southeast Alaska, salmon trollers will be back out targeting spring kings by May 1 at the Stikine River.

• Southeast crabbers had their second-best Tanner fishery ever, topping 1.3 million pounds in just 12 days. The crab averaged $2.23 for 74 permit holders, 30 cents higher than last year.

• To the contrary, dwindling stocks of golden king crab yielded a catch of just 155,000 pounds, about half of last year. The 17 crabbers got $10.50 a pound, compared to $11.86 last season.

• Crabbing is about over in the Bering Sea, where just 2.5 million pounds of snow crab remained in the 36.5 million pound quota. Also, the 17 million pound Tanner crab quota is a wrap.

• Halibut landings were approaching 2 million pounds, or 10 percent of the 17-million-pound catch limit. Ten percent of the 20.3 million pound sablefish quota had crossed the docks.

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

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