Fish Factor writer ends weekly column after 30 years

This is my last column on fish.

The weekly article on the fishing industry in Alaska began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News. Since then, the number of subscribers has grown to nearly 20 news outlets across Alaska and nationally.

The goal has always been to educate readers about the economic, social, and cultural importance of the seafood industry to all Alaskans.

Just one more penny per pound on the docks means millions more dollars for the state coffers. Commercial fishing employs more people than any other private industry in Alaska and provides two-thirds of the nation’s wild-caught seafood.

More than 31,000 fishers are on the waters each year on approximately 8,900 vessels ranging from small craft to large catchers-processors over 300 feet. Most Alaskan fishing boats – 84% – are under 50 feet. Each boat is a small showcase, an independent business that can support one or more families.

As I let the fish beat after three decades, here are some key thoughts.

I hope Alaska can find ways to keep more of its fishing revenue in the state. A 0.78 share of the $718 million value for all pollock, cod, flounder and other groundfish caught in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska in 2020 went to non-resident vessels.

Fifty-two Alaskans hold 31% of the snow crab quota pool; 200 non-residents hold 66%. Forty-nine Alaskans hold 28% of the Bristol Bay red king crab quota; 181 non-residents hold 70%.

Maybe there’s a way to allocate some of that catch to coastal cities, like the community quota program for western Alaskans. I’m just saying.

Likewise, I hope that more salmon licenses will remain in Alaska’s hands. Since Alaska began restricting access to salmon fishing in 1975, residents of communities in Bristol Bay, for example, now hold less than a quarter of the region’s salmon fishing licenses. And more than 60 percent of the bay’s gross driftnet fishing revenue leaves the state.

My wish is to see more of all Alaskan fish fully utilized.

Almost every other protein industry in the world uses animals “root to root”. But in Alaska, fish skins, heads, organs, shells, and dumped species like sculpins or arrowtooth flounder are mostly discarded or ground up and discarded.

These byproducts could provide a steady revenue stream of hundreds of millions of dollars from the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, cosmetics, and myriad other industries.

For example, an Icelandic company called Kerecis recently received a third six-figure grant from the US Department of Defense to create bandages from codfish for use by the military.

The collagen and omega 3s in the skin provide barriers against infection and allow the human body to regrow its own healthy tissue.

I believe Alaska is being left behind in terms of patented or trademarked “intellectual property” from things like bioengineering, advanced analytics, decarbonized ships, robotics, and other advances in the industry of high technology seen in other states and nations.

In Newfoundland, for example, robots that cut and shell snow crab have been awarded a US patent for the Canadian Center for Fisheries Innovation and 10 are pending for other countries. Robot makers believe the system will help solve labor issues in remote processing plants where it is difficult to recruit enough workers.

Commercial fishing was Alaska’s first industry and led to statehood in 1959. As Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has often said: Long after the last drop of oil will have been taken from our lands, our fisheries will support us.

It has been a privilege to be a voice for the Alaskan seafood industry and I will continue to be. Find fishing updates, prices, market trends and commentary on my new (still ongoing) blog at www.alaskafish.news.