By Congressman Don Young, Sen. Dan Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Alaska is our nation’s seafood powerhouse. With nine of our country’s top twenty fishing ports by volume, we understand the vital role our seafood industry has played in our communities in the past, how important it is now, and how central the industry will be in the future. Protecting and enhancing Alaska’s fisheries is one of the top priorities of our delegation.

For longline sable fishers in the Gulf of Alaska, there are few omens of doom more chilling than the enormous shadow of a whale approaching their boat. That’s because in the past several years, male sperm whales, the lone wolves of the ocean, have been behaving strangely. They have been teaming up to hunt fish right off fishers’ hooks, and every year more whales are coming to eat from the fishing line buffet, leading some scientists to speculate that they’re somehow communicating about the richness of the hunting ground and sharing tips.

After a lengthy search, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association has a new executive director set to start in December.

The organization, which is funded by a tax on drift fishermen, announced Nov. 12 that Becky Martello would take the top job beginning Dec. 14.

Martello replaces Sue Aspelund, who said last spring that she'd like to resign from the position after holding it for about a year.

What the infamous T-P-P could mean for Alaska's seafood exports, the challenges of counting pink salmon, and The Cannery Project takes us to False Pass. All that and more on this week's Alaska Fisheries Report.

Federal regulators on Thursday approved a genetically engineered salmon as fit for consumption, making it the first genetically altered animal to be cleared for American supermarkets and dinner tables.
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The approval by the Food and Drug Administration caps a long struggle for AquaBounty Technologies, a small company that first approached the F.D.A. about approval in the 1990s. The agency made its initial determination that the fish would be safe to eat and for the environment more than five years ago.

The Kodiak Fisheries Workgroup sent a letter of community input to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council before the council’s meeting in early October. The letter focused on the gulf trawl bycatch management issue.

Fisheries analyst for the Kodiak City and Kodiak Island Borough, Heather McCarty, says it encouraged the council to continue analysis on some points that the Kodiak community thinks important, and it furthermore provided a community perspective.

Next year promises to be a big year for sockeye harvests. Both Bristol Bay and Upper Cook Inlet are forecast to have sizable sockeye returns in the midst of global and domestic market hostile to U.S. higher sockeye prices detailed in a new economic report.

With the holiday season coming into full swing in December, retail suppliers of wild Alaska seafood both online and in local shops say sales are on par with a year ago and they are upbeat about a good season.

A new study says levels of toxins responsible for paralytic shellfish poisoning are well above the Food and Drug Administration’s limit in the Haines area. One researcher says further testing of commercial crab and shrimp from the area could kill the region’s fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a proposed rule that would reduce bycatch limits for Pacific halibut in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) groundfish fisheries.

Bycatch is also known as “prohibited species catch,” or PSC. The proposed fishery management plan amendment, "Amendment 111," would reduce PSC limits for halibut in specific amounts in four groundfish sectors:

- Amendment 80 sector (non-pollock trawl catcher/processors) by 25% to 1,745 mt;
- BSAI trawl limited access sector (all non-Amendment 80 trawl fishery participants) by 15% to 745 mt;

Alexa Tonkovich, who as international director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute oversaw an $8 million overseas marketing budget, has been named as the agency's new executive director.

The appointment of Tonkovich, who has been instrumental in developing new export markets for Alaska seafood, was announced by ASMI board chairman Barry Collier, who is the president and chief executive officer of Peter Pan Seafoods, during ASMI's All Hands meeting in Anchorage Oct. 21-23.

Hurricane Patricia was a surprise. The eastern Pacific hurricane strengthened explosively before hitting the coast of Mexico, far exceeding projections of scientists who study such storms.
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And while the storm’s strength dissipated quickly when it struck land, a question remained. What made it such a monster?

Explanations were all over the map, with theories that included climate change (or not), and El Niño.

Because of Alaska’s budget crisis, state agencies cut spending this year and are planning additional reductions in the next few years. For the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, those cuts have meant less monitoring of fish runs, a change that will lead to more conservative management and less fishing opportunity.

Coming up this week, there are even more options on the table regarding Gulf of Alaska bycatch after the North Pacific Council met; we have a new director of the commercial fisheries division, and once again proof that you shouldn't mess with the Lacey Act. Help from KSKA's Ellen Lockyer AND Monica Gokey in Anchorage, and KDLG's Molly Dischner in Dillingham.

Scott Kelley is Alaska's new director of commercial fisheries as of Oct. 21, replacing Jeff Regnart, who retired at the start of October. Kelley has worked for the Department of Fish and Game for nearly 25 years, all of it in division of commercial fisheries and a since-merged research arm.

Kelley started his career with fish and game as a port sampler at Excursion Inlet, a major processing facility west of Juneau. Since then he’s held a variety of roles in Southeast Alaska, including working on stock assessments, as an area management biologist, and as a regional management coordinator.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has compiled preliminary figures for the 2015 commercial salmon harvest and harvest value. The total 2015 statewide commercial salmon harvest was 263.5 million fish, and was comprised of 474,000 Chinook salmon, 15.2 million chum salmon, 3.6 million coho salmon, 190.5 million pink salmon, and 54 million sockeye salmon. Overall, this represents the second largest salmon harvest on record, and was exceeded only by the record harvests of 2013.

He went missing on a run from Egegik to Ugashik. Our thoughts are with the family. -Ed.

Following the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) first successful use of a stereo camera to verify a US study, some say this technology will soon become a more conventional way to conduct marine research.

The study was conducted to help inform the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) of the state of coral in the Pribilof Canyon in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska and whether it was threatened by pollock fishing in the area, before they made their decision earlier this month to continue to allow fishing there.

Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, crews are transitioning seasonal forward operating locations throughout Alaska.

Crews are scheduled to close FOL Deadhorse Thursday. During the summer months, aircrews were deployed to FOL Deadhorse in support of Arctic Shield 2015.

Crews closed FOL Cordova Sept. 30 and are scheduled to open FOL Cold Bay, Thursday, in advance of winter fisheries.

Coast Guard aircrews transferred equipment and air assets to Cold Bay to reduce response time to Bristol Bay, the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands during peak fishing season.

Salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery has been under scrutiny since 2012, when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council proposed a revision in the Gulf trawl fishery’s management structure. The Council is slowly making headway on the issue. 

Pacific halibut and Chinook salmon are taken as prohibited species, or bycatch, by the Gulf groundfish trawl fleet, and the Council wants to provide tools for better managing the prohibited species catch.

Twenty-four years ago, U.S. District Court Judge Hezekiah Russel Holland gave his blessing to a landmark settlement that resolved criminal and civil complaints pressed by the federal and state governments against Exxon for its huge oil spill in Prince William Sound.

On Thursday, in the same Anchorage courtroom, Holland, who uses his middle name and first initial, heard attorneys tell him that the state and federal governments have no more reason to fight with the oil giant over the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

New BBRSDA president Abe Williams, young pollock affected by warm waters, and more.

NOAA Fisheries is developing an Agency-wide Ecosystem-based Fishery Management policy, which outlines a set of principles to guide our actions and decisions over the long-term. The draft policy goals and framework are informed by NOAA Fisheries’ own practices and experience from that of our partners. These ideas are intended to limit neither discussion nor consideration of other potential policy goals.

Winter may cast the Arctic into darkness for months but wildlife – from predatory seabirds to bottom-feeding critters – are more active during that time than ever imagined.

Documenting the frozen waters of a fjord in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, an international team of more than 100 scientists found high levels of reproductive activity, feeding, and growing across the marine environment.

A commercial fishing trade organization is donating 300 pounds of sockeye salmon to the Kenai Senior Center.

The first 50 pounds of the donation from Alaska Salmon Alliance arrived at the center Wednesday, The Peninsula Clarion reports.

The salmon meal was originally suggested by Kenai senior Howard Hill, who secured the donation from the Salmon Alliance, said senior center director Rachael Craig.

Crabbers are anxious about survey estimates for snow crab, and even more anxious about how those estimates don’t synch with allocation models.

Bristol Bay red king crab and tanner crab are less than last year’s biomass levels, but still roughly on par with long-term averages. Allocations for snow crab, the largest of the three main commercial crab harvests, could take a worse dive this season, resulting from a questionable modeling method that could make the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage the fishery more cautiously than usual, up to and including lowering crabbers’ quota.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking letters of public support through Oct. 23, for 10 people, including two incumbents, for two presidential appointments as U.S. commissioners to the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Terms expire on Dec. 31 for current commissioners Don Lane of Homer and Bob Alverson, of Seattle.

A USDA bailout will send thousands of cans of Bristol Bay sockeye to school lunches and other federal food programs around the country this winter.