Fishery advocates are hoping for the speedy delivery of a letter to state lawmakers that asks them to dust off a law pertaining to fish habitats.
Title 16, the statute that outlines the responsibilities of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game when issuing development permits that could impact those resources, has not been updated for nearly 60 years.
“The law we have now, in terms of permitting projects in fish habitat, was written the year after statehood and it has not had any substantive updates since then,” said Lindsey Bloom of Juneau, one of a newly forming, diverse group called Stand for Salmon that is backing a review of the permitting process.
Last month the group proposed that the state Board of Fisheries send a letter asking the Legislature to update the old statute, and the board agreed.
Currently, the statute states that the commissioner of Fish and Game “shall issue a permit unless the activity is determined to be insufficient for the protection of fish and game resources.”
Bloom and others want to see the phrase “insufficient for the protection” more clearly defined.
“The language is vague and open-ended,” she said. “It doesn’t contain anything specific to what the proper protection of fish and game is.”
The scope and size of some of the development projects being proposed and considered today were not on the radar screen at statehood in 1959.
“Large-scale projects like Pebble and Susitna and Chuitna — anyone can see they are going to have significant impacts on fish and game. How do regulators in Alaska determine what the proper protection is?”
The board wrote in its draft letter to the Alaska Legislature, “The board recognizes the broad responsibilities of the Legislature to promote economic development and the wise stewardship of resources for all Alaskans. The board finds that clear delineation of Alaska’s unwavering promise to protect salmon and fisheries habitat establishes a consistent and predictable business environment that will help all individuals and corporations wishing to do business in Alaska.”
The Board of Fisheries is expected to give the letter a formal nod at its meeting next week in Kodiak.
Fishy trends to watch
Seafood is highlighted among the top 10 trends to watch this year, say global buyers at Whole Foods Markets and other major outlets.
Topping the list, reports Seafood Source, is using byproducts of all kinds, both edible and otherwise.
“Pescetarianism” will partner with a new “flexitarianism” eating trend that will add fish and shellfish to vegetarian meals, and is less rigid than typical vegan, gluten-free or other special diets.
Wellness and Japanese-inspired eating ingredients are making their way from specialty stores into more American pantries, with seaweeds topping the trend. Kelp is being called the new kale and seaweed-flavored food and drink products grew by 76 percent from 2011 through 2015, according to consumer research firm Mintel.
Creative Condiments made from 100 percent cod, lobster, mussels and other seafoods will make a big splash in pastes and powders for dips, soup stocks, salad dressings and more. And oven-ready meal kits are on the upswing as shoppers opt for healthier, easy to prepare choices.
A trend of note to Alaska stems from the continued global shortfall of farmed salmon.
“It looks like farmed production this year will be down, and the large European investment banks that finance a lot of farmed salmon activity don’t expect global production to go above last year until 2019,” said Andy Wink, senior seafood analyst with the McDowell Group.
“So, we’re looking at several years of either lower or constrained supply growth for farmed salmon. That is important because farmed salmon production has grown around 5 percent a year over the last 20 years.
Alaska’s largest fisheries get under way in January when hundreds of boats set out lines and pots for codfish in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands regions. Rockfish fisheries also are underway — there are more than 30 different types of rockfish!
Hundreds more boats will hit the Gulf and Bering Sea waters when pollock and other whitefish fisheries open for trawlers on Jan. 20.
Those combined fisheries make up more than 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood volume.
Divers are still going after $4 per pound sea cucumbers in two Panhandle regions, and Southeast trollers are still catching winter kings.
Bering Sea snow crab will kick into gear mid-month with a 19 million-pound catch limit. Crabbers also will know next week if the Board of Fisheries will give the OK for a bairdi Tanner opener in one Bering Sea fishing district.
Finally, halibut catches for this year will be announced when the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets Jan. 23-27 in Vancouver, British Columbia. That fishery opens in early March.
The Alaskan Leader Foundation is accepting funding applications from nonprofit groups and projects for 2017. For 10 years, the foundation has granted over $500,000 to programs in both Kodiak and Bristol Bay, including shelters, youth sports, recycling, museums and more. Deadline to apply is Jan. 31. Contact Linda Kozak at 907-486-8824 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laine Welch has been writing Fish Factor since 1991. The syndicated column runs in nearly 20 Alaska newspapers and websites, and in the U.K. Her daily “Fish Radio” program airs on 30 stations across Alaska and beyond. Laine lives in Kodiak. Visit her website at www.alaskafishradio.com.