Fish Factor: Seafood industry stakeholders must comment soon on several issues

Alaska’s seafood industry stakeholders have a four-bagger chance to provide input on policy decisions that directly affect their livelihoods: trade, relief payouts for cod and salmon, Board of Fisheries meeting plans and appointees. For several, the window of opportunity is tight. 

Here is the line-up according to the deadline dates for comments:

1. Trade input – By Aug. 1 suggestions are invited for a newly established seafood trade task force to be chaired by the U.S. Trade Representative and the Dept. of Commerce. The chance to provide input, which was just announced on July 13, stems from a presidential executive order signed in May on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth

The task force “will work to support fair market access for U.S. seafood products through trade policy and negotiations” and “will work closely with interagency partners to develop a comprehensive interagency seafood trade strategy,” said a press release. It added “the strategy will identify opportunities to improve access to foreign markets through trade policy and negotiations; resolve technical barriers to U.S. seafood exports; and otherwise support fair market access for U.S. seafood products.”

Comments can be sent via email to SeafoodTrade.Strategy@noaa.gov by Aug. 1. As of July 24, only 19 comments had been submitted.

2. Relief for cod and salmon failures – Comments are wanted by Aug. 14 on draft plans to distribute $24.4 million in relief payments for the 2018 Gulf of Alaska cod crash and $10.3 million for the sockeye salmon run failure at Chignik. The funds were cut loose by the U.S. secretary of commerce in late February and the State of Alaska, in consultation with industry and NOAA Fisheries, has developed a draft payout plan. Upon completion, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will work with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to distribute the funds as quickly as possible. 

For cod, the draft plan calls for 40 percent of the $24.4 million to go to harvesters among six gear sectors. The proportions for each are based on losses determined by comparing the five-year averaged adjusted wholesale values from 2013 to 2017 to the 2018 value (as shown on a table).

Processors would receive 26 percent of the funds based on the average wholesale value of cod processed from 2013 to 2017 using Commercial Operator’s Annual Report (COAR) data.

Communities that depend on revenue generated from cod landings and other economic activity are eligible for 4 percent.

Thirty percent of the funds are earmarked for research to be awarded by competitive bid; about 1 percent would go to cover a program coordinator position on behalf of the State.

Send comments on the Gulf cod draft plan by August to DFG.2018GOAPacificCod@alaska.gov.

For the Chignik sockeye salmon run failure, the draft distribution plan calls for 55 percent of the $10.3 million to go to harvesters, which would add up to ~75 percent of the 2015 to 2017 average dockside value of the salmon fishery. 

ADF&G is proposing to subdivide the harvester allocation into two pools – one for permit holders (65 percent) and one for crew members (35 percent). The 65/35 proposed split is based on an average crew share of 10 percent and three-four crew members per vessel.

Processors would receive 11 percent based on the average wholesale value of Chignik sockeye salmon processed by the company from 2015 to 2017.

Communities in the Chignik region that depend on revenue generated from fish landings and other economic activity would get 3 percent.

One percent of the funds would go to subsistence users via the Chignik Intertribal Coalition, and

30 percent would go towards research. Those funds will be available by competitive bid for projects that help fill key data gaps about the freshwater and marine conditions that influence the productivity of the Chignik salmon stock. 

Email comments on the proposed plan by Aug. 14 to DFG.2018ChignikSockeye@alaska.gov. Comments on both the cod and Chignik plans also can be mailed to Kari Winkel at ADF&G, PO Box 115526 Juneau, AK 99811-5526. Questions? Call (907) 465-6136.  

3. Should the Board of Fisheries meetings be postponed due to COVID-19? Be virtual or in person? 

Alaskans are being asked for their opinions by Aug. 31 as the board makes plans for its meeting lineup that runs from October to March. The focus this cycle is fisheries at Prince William Sound, Southeast,

“Anyone who has attended knows these are intensely public meetings and big gatherings,” said Glenn Haight, boards support director. “You’ll spend anywhere from two days to two weeks talking up close with people and sitting next to each other. And as we look at what mitigation measures are happening for other events, we’re just starting to wonder what we need to put in place if we are going to have in person meetings. Or do we need to go to a virtual platform? And if so, how would we best be able to do so? We want to ask the public what their concerns are and get some good ideas from folks.”

Would an online fish board meeting that takes public testimony over the phone be adequate? Could moderated discussions be opened to a large audience? How can rural people dealing with limited bandwidth join the conversations? The meetings could be rescheduled, Haight said, but it’s uncertain when the COVID-19 coast will be clear. For now, the fish board hopes to make plans with the public’s help. 

“Not to beat up pandemic metaphors, but we’re taking the public’s temperature here,” Haight said. “And we’re going to find out what people are concerned about, what they’re interested in and what they want the board to consider.”

Submit comments by email to dfg.bof.comments@alaska.gov, at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov or via a quick survey. Deadline to comment is Aug.31.

4. Comments on Governor Dunleavy’s appointments of Abe Williams of Anchorage, McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks and John Jensen of Petersburg (reappointment) to the Board of Fisheries can be sent to Representative Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, at rep.louise.stutes@akleg.gov.

Normally, the Alaska Legislature would put appointees through a vigorous vetting process with public input, but COVID-19 sent them home early from the last session. Stutes has scheduled a hearing with public testimony for Sept. 3 starting at10 a.m. at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

Fish feeds soaring demand – salmon and halibut taken as bycatch by Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawlers will continue to feed the less fortunate. 

Federal permits were renewed for the nonprofit SeaShare to take the fish that by law must be discarded and instead distribute it to the nation’s food banks. 

“We resubmit our application every three years to be authorized, along with a new list of boats and shore plants and food banks,” said Jim Harmon, SeaShare executive director. “We’ve generated over six and a half million pounds in the last 25 years and that equates to 26 million servings of fish that would otherwise have been thrown overboard.”

The bycatch to foodbanks program began 25 years ago in the Bering Sea and expanded to the Gulf a decade later. It now includes 136 boats, 12 shoreside processors, 34 catcher processors and three motherships. Harmon said longstanding partnerships help get the goods from the docks to needy Americans. 

“The donations that the fishermen and processors make enable us to bring in other donations of freight, cold storage, packaging, processing, and they wouldn’t be able to donate those things if we didn’t have the fish,” he said.

The Sea Share program has expanded nationwide to accept a wide variety of fish products, but a good share of the fish caught in the Gulf goes to Alaskans.

“We purchased freezers five years ago and put them in regional hubs, allowing us to distribute to remote communities. So thanks to Juneau, St. Paul, Kodiak, Bethel and Dillingham, we’re able to serve 34 other smaller communities that weren’t getting our fish five years ago,” Harmon said, adding that the Coast Guard also delivers fish to Nome every year and Matson and AML shipping partnered to purchase and deliver a 20-foot replacement freezer to Dillingham last week.

Harmon said the millions of lost jobs stemming from the COVID pandemic has pushed up demand at food banks.

 “The clients that go to food banks have doubled this year. I believe 22 percent of Americans are accessing food banks and that’s unprecedented,” Harmon said. “We’ve distributed over 5 million servings in the first six months but now we’re trying to find out where the next millions of servings are going to come from. So if you have something to give, whether it’s seafood or dollars or services, please donate at www.seashare.org and we’ll make sure that your donation is maximized to the fullest extent possible.”