Alaska/Pacific Coast

West Coast Trawl Industry Anticipates Re-establishing Rockfish Market
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Susan Chambers – January 3, 2017
The West Coast trawl industry is anxious to rebuild its lost rockfish market and a new exempted fishing permit could make that happen in February.

“This exempted fishing activity is designed to provide participants with additional flexibility to configure their gear to re-establish a targeted rockfish fishery for widow, yellowtail, and chilipepper rockfish,” a Federal Register notice said Friday. “The annual catch limits (ACLs) for both widow and chilipepper rockfish are increasing to levels not seen in several years, and the additional fish available could provide an opportunity for the redevelopment of processing and harvesting in those areas of the coast that had been constrained by the lower ACLs for these overfished species.”

The EFP would eliminate the selective flatfish trawl gear requirement and provide fishermen with more flexibility to design their gear for catching pelagic rockfish, a highly marketable and favored seafood on the West Coast. The EFP also could allow fishermen to use different kinds of bycatch excluders, the notice said. Fishermen also could experiment with different mesh sizes.

These two elements of gear design were part of a larger trawl gear changes package the Pacific Fishery Management Council approved in March 2016, with a targeted implementation date of Jan. 1, 2017. The fishing industry was not aware of internal NMFS delays until August. At that time, fishermen and processors discovered the relaxed gear rules may not be in place until 2018 or later. The Council had confidence in the industry’s ability to change its gear and manage its groundfish and non-groundfish bycatch due to the trawl catch share program and fishermen’s individual accountability.

The industry attended the September 2016 Council meeting, requesting NMFS implement the gear change package by Jan. 1. Instead, NMFS met with some industry representatives and suggested an EFP to get the rockfish fishery re-started. The EFP would be one way to “bridge the gap” until the entire trawl gear package can be finished.

The EFP applicants — Oregon Trawl Commission, West Coast Seafood Processors Association, Environmental Defense Fund and Pacific Seafood — set to work writing the EFP, working with NMFS to ensure everything was on track for a start date of the beginning of the year.

Processors said at September and November Council meetings that it’s important to get the EFP started as soon as possible before March and Lent, when it’s possible to take advantage of seafood sales and marketing.

But while the  good news of additional market opportunities — and associated fishing effort to fulfill those markets — is welcome, it’s been a tough battle to get there.

The rules in effect years ago to protect species as they rebuilt did not include provisions for increasing fishing effort when the species reached its target of sustainability. Changes in the makeup of the fishery, such as catch shares, made it difficult to address automatic increases.

“We’ve been largely out of the rockfish market on the U.S. West Coast,” Pacific Seafood’s Mike Okoniewski said, noting that federal regulations can either hinder or help the industry. Processors have lost half or more of their fillet personnel since the introduction of the catch shares program, Okoniewski and others noted at community hearings in late 2016. Now, processors will have to rush to find and train filleters and other personnel as more rockfish comes in.

“The value of this fish is in the fresh market,” Okoniewski said.

The EFP will allow fishermen to fish shoreward of the rockfish conservation area north of 40 degrees 10′ N. Lat., using modified bottom trawl gear to fish higher in the water column. After May 15, during the Pacific whiting season, the market will be flooded with rockfish as rockfish caught in the midwater whiting fishery also will be delivered — in much higher volumes.

Some describe the scenario as a train wreck, with a market flooded with rockfish for which little or no advance marketing strategy has been made, at a time of year when demand for seafood typically drops. In contrast, the EFP could lead off the year by allowing businesses to create some marketing plans when seafood demand is higher, such as during Lent.

Fishermen will have to enroll in the EFP. NMFS will post a link to the notice on the West Coast Region site or fishermen can contact the Oregon Trawl Commission.

“I think the industry — fishermen, processors, EDF — need look at innovative ways to get our fish back in the marketplace,” Okonoiewski said, “and this EFP is actually a work-around on our part.”

Dungeness Crab Strike Continues on West Coast
SEAFOODNEWS.COM – January 3, 2016
Crabbers from San Francisco to Washington remain tied up over a price dispute with processors, according to several news sources.

The Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association’s press release on Monday, Jan. 2, said fishermen planned to have a coastwide conference call to discuss the re-establishment of $3 a pound ex-vessel price for Dungeness crab. As of Tuesday, no agreement had been reached.

The HFMA said one processor reduced the price paid to fishermen from $3 to $2.75 a pound on Dec. 26, 2016, at a time when some areas of California, Oregon and Washington were set to open to crab fishing. However, state-supervised price negotiations in Oregon on Dec. 27 failed to result in an agreement between Oregon fishermen’s marketing associations and multiple processors.

Generally, the price of crab rises as the crustaceans hit the market and supply shrinks after the first few weeks — sometimes days — of the season.

But this year has been different. Sections of California and Oregon had staggered openings due to levels of domoic acid that were decreasing, but fishermen reported the ex-vessel price remained at $3 a pound.

The combination of a major part of Oregon, a small part of northern California and part of Washington opening at the same time means a lot of crab could be dumped on the market at a time when shipments to China have been restricted. Live shipments to China from buyers who have little overhead compared to traditional processors have had an influence in rising ex-vessel prices.

Fishermen this year went strike at a time when demand is dropping. The holidays are over — a market which some California fishermen and processors could take advantage of this year — and the market starts moving away from luxury seafood items. Many retail outlets on the West Coast did have crab for the holidays, thanks to California fishermen and tribal crabbers in Washington.

“The news of the tie-up in [California’s] District 7 quickly spread both north and south on the U.S. West Coast,” the Humboldt association said in a press release. “The Dungeness crab fleet is now tied up from Morro Bay, California in the south to Westport, Washington, on the north.”

The Humboldt Fishermen’s association said fishermen, crews, fish company workers, truck drivers and specialty seafood buyers and exporters have been relieved of their jobs related to the Dungeness crab fishery over the New Year’s holiday.


US issuing new rules to curb illegal fishing, seafood fraud
The Associated Press by Patrick Whittle – December 31, 2016
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The Obama administration is issuing new rules it says will crack down on illegal fishing and seafood fraud by preventing unverifiable fish products from entering the U.S. market.


Russia Expects to Cut Fish Imports 20% in 2017 With Opening of Large Scale Fish Processing Complex
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Eugene Gerden – January 4, 2017
Russia will replace up to 20% of imports of fish and fish products by the end of the current year, that will take place through the planned building of a new large-scale fish processing complex, which is expected to be one of the largest in the country.

The new complex will be built in the Crimean city of Kerch, and will specialize on the processing of fish from the Azov and Black Sea, the volume of which catch has significantly increased in recent years.

The new complex will have the capacity to process up to 75,000 metric tons of fish and seafood per year and will be built by the Lazurny Okean Group of Companies, (which is a local fish producer and processor) with the support of the Crimean authorities and the Russian federal government.

Initial stage of the project involves modernization of the existing industrial refrigerator of the complex, which has fish storage capacity of 10,000 metric tons in the Kerch Fishing Port, as well as the establishment of the fish reception point with the capacity of 40,000 metric tons per year. According to the Russian Federal Agency for Fishery (Rosrybolovstvo), second phase of the project involves the design and construction of the complex itself, that will mainly focus on the processing of such Black Sea fish as sprats, anchovy, goby, mackerel and some others.

The new complex is expected to be officially opened in the middle of 2017.

According to data of Rosrybolovstvo, the volume of fish imports to Russia in 2015 amounted to 401,000 metric tons, both in fresh and frozen form, which is by 38% less than in 2014. In value terms, imports were equivalent to US$660 million. The results for 2016 have not yet been announced, however, according to some sources close to
Rosrybolovstvo, they will be comparable with the figures for 2015. Thus, building of the new complex will allow to substitute up to 20% of fish imports to Russia.

In the meantime, according to Valery Sivochub, President of the Association of Fishermen of Sevastopol, the new project is very ambitious, while its implementation will allow to establish processing of the majority of fish, caught in the Russian Black sea, total volume of which is estimated at about 150,000 metric tons per year.  Of these, a large part has been traditionally exported out of the Crimea.

According to Valeriy Sivochub, the new project is very important for implementation, especially because the Azov fish have always been primitively processed within the territory of Crimea.


Fish seek cooler waters, leaving some fishermen’s nets empty
The New York Times by Erica Goode – January 2, 2017
POINT JUDITH, R.I. — There was a time when whiting were plentiful in the waters of Rhode Island Sound, and Christopher Brown pulled the fish into his long stern trawler by the bucketful.

Ann Owens
Pacific Seafood Processors Association
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January 4, 2017