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Alaska Fish Factor: Graying of the Alaskan Fleet

Sustainability Economics Politics +5 more

US - The graying of the fleet continues in Alaska as fewer young folks obtain permits for various fisheries, writes Laine Welch in her Fish Factor column.

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Data from 2011 show that 45 percent of all Alaska permit holders were between the ages 45 and 60, with an average age of 47. That was roughly twice as many permit holders as there were between the ages of 30 and 44. Crew members were much younger, averaging around 21 years old. There also was a higher incidence of crew members in their mid-30s, dropping off in the older age range. This may be due in part to aging crew eventually purchasing their own permits.

Those are just a few of the findings by the state Dept. of Labor in its November issue of Economic Trends, which focuses on Alaska fishing and processing jobs. The harvesting sector also continued to grow, with the salmon and groundfish sectors each adding more than 200 jobs last year, while halibut, crab, and herring fisheries all had drops in employment. Overall, the seafood industry provides more jobs in Alaska than the oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism industries combined.

A breakdown shows that roughly 10,000 permit holders went fishing last year, along with more than 22,000 crew members. Salmon represents more than half of the total fishing jobs, and over 60 per cent of Alaskas total harvesting employment takes place from June through August. The salmon sector averaged more than 16,000 jobs a month during those months, 80 per cent of the total summer harvesting employment.

Three gear types accounted for almost 60 per cent of total harvesting jobs in the state in 2011: longliners, gillnetters and set netters.

In terms of gender, 85 percent of the fish harvesters last year were men. Of that, 7,253 were permit holders, or 23.9 percent. Male crew totaled 18,678, or 61.6 percent. Just over 1,100 women held fishing permits, or 3.7%. Women crew numbers topped 3,200, or 10.8% of Alaskas fishing jobs.

Alaska remains the nations leaders for value of fisheries at nearly $2 billion of the $5.3 billion US total. The Economic Trends report also includes analyses of seafood processing, fishermens other jobs and a focus on the Aleutians West region. Find the full report at:

Eat more fish! The American diet includes the second lowest percentage of seafood in the world about 15 pounds per capita per year, compared to 110 pounds of red meat and 73 pounds of poultry. The lack of essential nutrients from seafood (notably, omega 3 fatty acids) causes tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, according to health professionals.

It has just been in the last few decades as weve industrialized our food supply that weve almost eradicated this nutrient from our diet. When you dont get it, all kinds of bad things start happening, said Randy Hartnell, a former Bristol Bay fishermen and creator of Vital Choice Seafoods. (

Now U.S. nutritionists are getting serious about turning that deficit around. New federal dietary guidelines in 2010 promote eating seafood twice a week, but unfortunately today Americans eat less than half of that, said Linda Cornish, director of the Seafood Foundation, a new nonprofit launched this month as part of the National Fisheries Institute.

The Foundation will focus on building awareness of the health benefits of seafood to a wider population using a three pronged approach.

An education component teaching about the benefits of eating seafood; getting our moms, dads and children to understand the great tastes seafood has to offer, and helping Americans understand how to incorporate seafood meals into their daily routine, Cornish said. We need to help Americans become more confident seafood buyers, and to show how easy it is to cook seafood at home. That, she said is the biggest hurdle.

The biggest obstacle will be to overcome the routine of the daily meal, and the notion that fish is smelly and harder to prepare, Cornish said. When in fact fish is so easy and quick to prepare you can get a meal on the table in well under 30 minutes. It is a matter of just showing how easy it is to incorporate that into their daily meals.

The Seafood Foundation is forming partnerships with health organizations, seafood companies and industry stakeholders to help fund media and hands on campaigns, such as Cooking demonstrations in supermarkets, hospitals and community centers. Cornish said the seafood effort is very timely, as more people care about what they are eating.

I think there is definitely an awakening among our American citizens in terms of what our food system looks like. People want to be more aware of what we put into our bodies, she said. So often in our busy daily lives we run to pick up something fast and we dont realize how detrimental that is to our overall health. I dont think the average American understands what nutrients they really do need to function well. They take lots of supplements to get a feeling of well-being when in fact, they need to find and buy the best seafood and produce they can to have an overall wellness that is natural.

Cornish hopes to hear from others interested in promoting the health benefits of seafood. Reach her at Omegas cant be produced by our bodies and must be obtained from foods, notably fish and some plant sources.

ROV tops divers - Urchins, sea cucumbers and giant geoduck clams are some of Southeast Alaskas most lucrative, albeit dangerous, fisheries. Divers go down to pluck the creatures from the bottom, using long hookah-like devices that provides air supplied from attending boats on the surface. Now a new device from Norway could remove the dangers of diving.

A remotely-operated underwater vehicle (ROV) called a Seabed Harvester has performed extremely well in some of Northern Norways most remote and frigid waters. According to World Fishing, during testing in January, the ROV harvested nearly two metric tons of urchins (4,400 pounds) in four days. The average take by divers was about 200 pounds per day.

The ROV is undergoing more testing with a goal of using it to harvest other species, including scallops and other crustaceans. Scientists said the device is very gentle on the seabed, and they are anticipating a significant improvement in the harvest rate when the operators become more experienced. The ROV also may be used to inspect seabed conditions and stocks over larger areas. The research is financed by the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund. (photo at end of column)

Fish watch Alaska pollock - the worlds largest food fishery, could see an even bigger catch next year! Scientists are recommending a harvest of 1,375,000 metric tons for 2013, a 13 percent increase. That adds up to over three billion pounds of pollock. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will set the catch limits for more than 25 fisheries under its purview at its Dec. 3-11 meeting at the Anchorage Hilton.