Some harvesters will pay more for federal fisheries management

Federal shutdown could leave many Alaska harvesters stuck at the docks

A variety of freshly caught, but frozen, seafood harvested in the Kodiak area, including Pacific halibut, were on display at the Fish Showcase during the final day of ComFish 2017 at Kodiak on April 1. (Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times)

Fishermen in Alaska who own catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab will pay more to the federal government to cover 2018 management and enforcement costs for those fisheries.

For halibut and sablefish (black cod) the annual fee, which is capped at three percent, is based on dock prices from the March start of the fisheries through September and averaged across the state.

For this year, bills went out to 1,834 holders of halibut and sablefish shares, down by 60 from last year. Their tab ticked up from 2.2 percent to 2.8 percent to cover additional costs to maintain information systems, and yielded $4.6 million, said Carl Greene, cost recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

The combined value to fishermen of the halibut and sablefish fisheries for 2018 was $161 million, Greene said, a 22 percent decrease from last year’s payout of $208 million.

“The value of the halibut fishery was down 24 percent year over year, while sablefish was down 21 percent,” Greene said, adding that the decreases stemmed primarily from lower dock prices.

The average halibut price of $5.35 per pound was down from $6.32; sablefish at $3.68 per pound was down from $4.84 in 2017.

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Federal fish managers don’t track dock prices for the various Bering Sea crab catches, only the total value of the combined fishery which continues its year over year declines.

The total value of crab to fishermen for the 2017/18 season was $164 million, down $24 million (13 percent) from the previous year.

The coverage fee for the crab fisheries, paid by just 18 permit holders, increased slightly to 1.8 percent and yielded $3 million for enforcement costs, Green added.

Another group of about 18 boats that in 2016 began paying for coverage costs of their fisheries includes Bering Sea trawlers, mostly Seattle-based, that fish for flounders, pollock and other whitefish, including vessels owned by Alaska CDQ groups.

“The fee for these programs was less than one percent and were used to cover about $2 million in enforcement costs,” Greene said.

Fish shutdown shaft

Hundreds of boats are gearing up for the January start of some of Alaska’s largest fisheries in waters managed by the federal government from three to 200 miles offshore.

Meanwhile, the government shut down over Donald Trump’s demand for nearly $6 billion in funding for a border wall of “artistically designed steel slats”  has sent hundreds of thousands of workers home.

Nine of the government’s 15 federal departments and several agencies were shuttered at midnight on December 21 and there is no end in sight. That includes the Commerce Department which houses NOAA Fisheries.

In an unusual first, no one at NOAA in Juneau could speak about the impacts a government shutdown might have on upcoming fisheries. All questions were referred “to the White House.”

An emailed response from the White House Office of Management and Budget said that, while “it can’t answer agency specific contingency questions,”  as it stands now, Alaska’s big winter fisheries will get underway on schedule.

Fisheries management activities including quota monitoring, observer activities, and regulatory actions are considered “essential activities” that will remain during the shutdown.

Alaska’s cod fishery opens on Jan. 1, followed by pollock and various whitefish on Jan. 20.  No disruption is expected for those nor for ongoing crab fisheries.

The U.S. Coast Guard also will be at the ready for Alaska’s fishery openers. Nationwide, 42,000 Coast Guard will work without pay until a budget is passed.

Over the longer term, it’s disruptions to NOAA’s research that wreak the most havoc, said John Sackton at SeafoodNews.com.

Fish scientists involved in stock surveys and analyses, the foundation of Alaska’s fisheries, are furloughed due to Trump’s shutdown.

Gaps or lacks in data streams could halt catch allocations meted out over the year, or prompt more cautionary catches since the science would be lacking,

In Alaska, just over 100 fishery regulators are located in Juneau, 15 in Anchorage, one in Kodiak and two in Dutch Harbor. Another 100 or so are employed in fishery research labs in Seattle, Kodiak and Juneau.

Holiday seafood traditions

For centuries seafood has taken a special spot on holiday tables all over the world and is served up with traditional meaning.

One of the oldest stemming back to Roman times is the Feast of Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve celebration by Catholics to honor the birth of Jesus. The number seven is considered the perfect number and is repeated 700 times in the Bible, making the Feast of Seven Fishes a symbolic Christmas celebration.

Dining tables can include seven up to 13 different seafood dishes as a way to refrain from eating meat or milk on holy days, a long ago dietary taboo. One of the most famous dishes is baccalào or salted codfish; celebrants also feast on fried fish such as smelt and calamari.

In other countries around the world-

Eating lutefisk is a Christmas tradition in Norway and Sweden. It is made from dried whitefish, usually cod, that is prepared with lye in a long series of water treatments until the fish becomes jelly-like. Lutefisk dates back to the days of the Vikings.

In Japan, consuming prawns on New Year’s Eve is to ensure long life and eating herring roe is to boost fertility.

Feasting on pickled herring at midnight in Germany, Poland, and parts of Scandinavia is done in hopes of bringing in a bountiful catch.

In China a fish is served whole, symbolizing a good beginning and end in the coming year.

One seafood that isn’t popular in holiday celebrations in many parts of the world is lobster — because it swims backwards.

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