On this week’s Alaska Fisheries Report with Terry Haines:
Kodiak Tanner Crab Kirsten Dobroth/KMXT 1/14/2022
Host Intro: After remaining closed last year, Tanner crab season is back in the waters off Kodiak Island. The fishery opens Saturday (Jan. 15). And as KMXT’s Kirsten Dobroth (KER-stin DOH-broth) reports, this year’s haul could be a boon to local fishermen.
Dave Kubiak spent a recent rainy Thursday stacking the deck of his boat, the Laura Lee, with crab pots for this year’s harvest. He says the night before the season is always exciting.
“We’ll leave in sufficient time to get there and to go someplace and anchor up, and then wait for the morning and then run out and get all nervous and jittery on the opener, which is silly, but we do.”
Kubiak says back in the 1960s he’d get a nickel a pound for these crabs. This year, the Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative and local canneries agreed to $8.10 per pound for Tanner. That’s partially because of low supply and high demand across the country.
Kodiak’s tanner crab fishery didn’t even open last year. And back in 2020, crabbers fished for about half that price per pound. This year, guideline harvest levels for the Kodiak fishery were set at 1.1 million pounds – nearly triple as much as the year before. And Tanner crab fisheries for Chignik (CHIG-nick) and the South Peninsula are also open this season.
“This is a bigger quota than we’ve had in a while, the last three seasons we’ve had have been near the regulatory minimums.”
That’s Nat Nichols (NICK-ells), a Kodiak-based area management biologist with Fish and Game. Crabbing has been a fickle business over the years. But Nichols says that starting back in 2001, the agency started seeing local Tanner crab numbers surge every few years. He’s been tracking this year’s cohort since 2018.
“And that’s exciting, and it looks promising for the next few years at least because this is sort of the front edge of that pulse of crab and there are quite a few crabs behind them.”
Kubiak says that’s even more exciting than preseason jitters.
“You don’t have to catch a lot of crab to make some money, and of course that trickles down to the community, that goes to crew, that’s money in crews’ pockets, it’s wonderful.”
Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery will remain open until this season’s quota is caught – that could be only a few days or as long as a week or more depending on conditions. 79 vessels had registered as of Friday, for this year’s Tanner season. But Nichols said he expected a few more boats to register throughout the weekend.
Mussel Mortality 1/17/21 Mike Swasey/KHNS
Last summer blue mussels in the waters around Skagway died off in huge numbers. The local tribal government is studying the phenomenon and has a working theory about how it happened. As KHNS’ Mike Swasey reports, they are asking residents to hold off harvesting the shellfish until the population rebounds.
Reuben Cash says blue mussels are best served steamed with melted butter. But this year, he doubts you could find enough for a meal. Cash is the environmental coordinator at the Skagway Traditional Council. He says last summer between 70% and 90% of the population died in what he calls a massive mortality event.
Cash 1 [You can see all the shells from what happened this summer. And for a while it was I mean, it was thick. The whole rack line all along, where the high tide comes in was just probably four inches deep and empty mussel shells and dying mussels with meat still on it. It was widespread, ] :45
The Skagway Traditional Council samples local mussels to test for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning because they work well as an indicator species for the toxin. In late June, they realized something was wrong.
Cash 2 [We noticed that there was kind of a funky smell about a week earlier. But there was no evidence of anything happening just like the muscles were off in smell right? They kind of had a sweet, slightly putrid smell. And in the weeks leading up to that temperatures were in the 60s, maybe the 70s] 1:40
Cash says there was a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest further south that caused many blue mussels to die, but upper Lynn Canal stayed relatively cool.
Cash 3 [I kind of discounted the temperature theory right off the bat, because it just didn’t get hot enough. Blue mussels are pretty tolerant of high temperatures, they can tolerate up to about 85 degrees ] 2:15
Cash says he also considered that it could have been some sort of pathogen – like a virus or bacteria – affecting the shellfish, but blue mussels are highly resistant to them .
He says it was probably a combination of things that caused the mussels to die.
One thing – is the salt. Typically sea water levels are 35 parts per 1,000.
Cash 4 [starting in June, in 2021, it was down below one part per 1000, like as fresh as river water.] 3:05
And Cash says when the salt levels drop– blue mussels aren’t as tolerant of temperature shifts.
Another issue is sediment.
Cash 5 [Not only does the freshwater dilute the amount of salt that’s in the water, it also introduces a lot of sediment. And so and sediment covers up the muscles. Now, they’re filter feeders, they’re not going to be able to function as well as they would if the water was clear.] 4:20
Last winter there was record snowfall in the mountains above Skagway and Dyea. Then the area went through a cool spring, which kept the snowpack in place later than usual. As temperatures warmed up the snow melted and brought fresh water and heavy amounts of silt into areas like Nahku Bay.
Then around the summer solstice, an extreme low tide occurred.
Cash 6 [So they were exposed at the low tide for longer and with a little bit higher temperatures probably being smothered by sediment with low salinity.] 6:50ish
Normally, the mussels can handle any one of these things – but all of them combined? It may have been too much.
Cash says the blue mussels that are left will be the strongest of the population and the most resilient. But he’s asking harvesters to avoid collecting mussels until the population rebounds.
Cash 7 [If you want blue mussels next year, hold off this year.] 11:10
Blue Mussels tend to spawn mid-summer so it may be late summer before the area sees any increase in their numbers.
Reporting from Skagway, I’m Mike Swasey
Sitka HERRING 1-18-22 Robert WOOLSEY, KCAW
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game on Friday (1-14-21) announced the largest-ever harvest guideline for the Sitka Sac Roe Herring fishery this spring – over 45,000 tons – but it’s unlikely that the market can accommodate that many fish.
Aaron Dupuis is the state management biologist for herring in Sitka. Seiners landed only 16,000 tons of herring last year, which was just under half of the harvest guideline. In 2020 and 2019, there were no fisheries at all. Dupuis says that market requirements – as much as biology – have shaped the sac roe fishery in recent years.
Aaron – 6:20 “The reason why there wasn’t a fishery in 19 and 20, there wasn’t a biomass issue, it was the size of the fish, the size of the fish wasn’t marketable for what they wanted in Japan.’
The total biomass of herring in Sitka Sound is actually a little smaller than last year. The high harvest target (45,164 tons) is the result of a favorable age distribution of fish: Almost 60-percent of this spring’s biomass is expected to be 6-year olds, weighing in at 136 grams – near the sweet spot for herring buyers in Asia.
Still, Dupuis doesn’t see permit holders, processors, and buyers ramping up to harvest the available supply.
Aaron – 8:44 “So yeah, that’s it’s gonna be attractive but on the same token, the markets can only handle so much so there’s like it wouldn’t be physically possible for industry to harvest the entire GHL (Guideline Harvest Level) with the infrastructure in place right now.”
(WEB: The most recent high-water marks for the Sitka Sac Roe fishery were in 2009 and 2010, when the roughly 50 permit holders landed between 15,000 and 18,000 tons of herring, which sold for over $12 million that year. Since then, seiners have had some much bigger harvests, which have sold for far less. In 2018, seiners landed just over 11,000 tons, which sold for about $1 million.)
Dupuis would say that 2022’s biomass forecast is a peak – were it not for the large number of 3-year olds observed in the Sound last year – the sixth largest “class” of 3-year olds in the department’s history. Those fish are now 4-year-olds, and – at over one-quarter of the overall biomass – they are right behind the 6-year-olds.
Aaron – 11:36 “I’m feeling pretty comfortable with what we’re seeing coming in the back to backfill this huge age class. So it’s not going to be a precipitous drop at least from what I’m looking at right now.
Dupuis says this year’s sac roe fishery will occur at about the same time as the state Board of Fisheries’ Southeast Finfish & Shellfish meeting – originally scheduled for Ketchikan in January, but since postponed until March in Anchorage. Although there are numerous herring proposals on the board’s agenda, Dupuis doesn’t expect that any regulatory decisions would alter the course of this year’s fishery.
Mariculture USDA Eric Stone/KRBD 01/14/2022
Southeast’s seaweed and shellfish industry is in line to receive a boost from the feds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this/last week (THURS 1-13) that it would provide $500,000 in funding to draw up plans for a new mariculture processing facility on Prince of Wales Island.
As KRBD’s Eric Stone reports, producers and processors are welcoming the news.
USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small (SO-cheel / TOR-es / SMAHL) says the initiative goes hand-in-hand with the Biden administration’s plans for new economic opportunity in an area that’s been in transition as the timber industry shrinks.
It’s a great opportunity for economic diversification. And one of the things I love about this project is it really is driven by partners on the ground
She credits Southeast Conference, a regional civic and industry group, as hatching the idea. Executive Director Robert Venables (VEHN-uh-buhlz) says the investment will go to good use.
One of the things we’re trying to do is help support the industry and identify what their needs are. And it’s come to the forefront that a facility that can help especially the smaller entities have a place to do processing, storage, shipping, aggregating any number of things, but they don’t have the means to do their own individual construction of a facility.
Venables says the idea is to create a co-op facility that would be shared by a number of mariculture firms.
Mathew Scaletta owns Wildfish Cannery in Klawock.
We’re like a craft seafood cannery.
He says Wildfish isn’t canning mariculture products just yet, but they’re looking to get into the sector.
we are hoping to be a value-added producer for mariculture products. Part of our business plan going into the future is to work more of these products into our lineup.
It’s all very preliminary, but Scaletta says he could see his company adding five to 10 jobs by expanding their business to the new facility.
Markos Scheer runs Seagrove Kelp, a mariculture outfit with a nursery in Ketchikan and a seaweed farm on the west side of Prince of Wales Island. He also chairs Southeast Conference’s Seafood and Maritime Committee.
I think this is really an exciting time for mariculture in Alaska and the development of sustainable, non-extractive economic opportunities for coastal Alaskans. This, I think, represents part of a really interesting and terrific paradigm shift and an opportunity for sustainable economic development for coastal communities.
Venables says the half-million dollar boost will pay for engineering work, community engagement, utility work, and other prep to get ready for construction. He says Southeast Conference is planning to help tap into funding from the recently-passed federal infrastructure bill to help make the facility happen.