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By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer
Attendees of Wednesday's Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon might have been munching on chicken-Caesar wraps, but fish was on the menu.
David Landis, general manager of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (SSRAA), gave a presentation on his group's efforts to enhance and rehabilitate salmon in the region. Susan Doherty, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, also spoke about the commercial fishing industry.
Landis opened by explaining more about the cyclical nature of the salmon industry and some of the basics of what SSRAA does.
“We have salmon hatcheries and release sites,” Landis explained. “That's where we take the salmon that are hatched in the hatcheries and import them in a boat to net-pen arrangement where there's someone there taking care of the fish, in other words, feeding them as they're reared and imprinting on that site so they'll come back to that site rather than the hatchery.”
He explained that SSRAA serves commercial fishing districts 1 through 8, “basically everything south of Petersburg,”
“When we release the fish they are anyone's to catch,” Landis said. “So they don't belong to us, they don't belong to you, or commercial fishermen, or subsistence, or sport — they belong to anyone who can catch them.”
He emphasized that SSRAA is not a “fish farm” in any sense of the term.
“We hatch and release (the salmon) just as soon as they are able to survive on their own,” Landis said. “We're not a fish farm; we hatch fish and then release them out into the ocean.”
Landis noted that there are special areas though that allows SSRAA to go in and harvest groups of salmon. He noted that fishers have a role in those special harvest areas.
“The terminal special harvest areas, that's when (the salmon) get into an area that we can harvest them as SSRAA and also allow fishermen opportunity just for a specific purpose there,” Landis said.
He said that some of the funding for SSRAA actually comes from the fishers themselves.
“The fishermen actually set up a system where they tax themselves … 3 percent comes right off the top,” Landis said. “They don't grumble about it, generally, because they know that this money is going to come back to them in fish.”
“It's almost $600 million of value to the fishermen that SSRAA has produced,” he said. “About $20 million bucks a year on average.”
Following Landis' presentation, he introduced Susan Doherty to speak on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association. Landis thanked Doherty for her contributions to his organization a number of times throughout the presentation.
“Susan was instrumental in this (SSRAA) organization from nearly at the inception,” Landis said, “and we owe her a great debt of gratitude.”
Doherty spoke about the role of her organization, the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association.
“We are a non-profit association that's solely funded by our membership,” Doherty explained, “and our mission is to look out for the financial future of the seine fleet, the seine industry, and we do that through legislative involvement, (we involve) the local (Department) of Fish and Game officials and ones in Juneau.
“There's task force meetings that happen every year that establish how fisheries are going to happen for the gillnet, seine, troll — we're involved with that,” she added.
She also addressed the commercial fishing industry as a whole.
“So commercial fishermen are — do not say the first thing that comes to mind,” Doherty joked, to much laughter. “Basically, they are an independent breed, they don't like to toot their own horns very much, because of that there are a lot of misconceptions about what their economic impact is, where they live, and where they spend their money.”
Doherty also clarified a misconception that the majority of permit holders for commercial fishing reside outside of Alaska. She noted that in the past that might have been true, but now a majority live here.
“There's a perception that permit holders in general reside outside of the state,” Doherty said. “… In the last five years that 55 percent of Southeast permit holders reside in Alaska.”
Doherty also showed commercial fishing stats from 2015, including flyers that were handed out at the onset of the meeting. They show that Ketchikan is the 15th place port in terms of volume of fish processed but only 25th place in terms of value.
Luncheon attendee Doug Ward asked Doherty about that discrepancy. Doherty explained that some of those ports bring in different types of seafood “more value per pound.” For example, King crab, pound-for-pound has a higher value than salmon.
Doherty addressed the economic benefit of commercial fishing in the community.
“For the community of Ketchikan and the borough, there is the fisheries enhancement tax, it's a shared tax, that the state takes half and they give half of it back to the local communities where the fish were landed,” Doherty said. “… In 2016 it was just under $400,000, so that's based on the landings and the value of the landings in the local area and (that money) is given directly to the communities.
“So fisheries in the coastal communities has a huge impact for helping to run government and fund services,” Doherty added.
Attendees at the Chamber luncheon might have left full, not just of food, but also of information pertaining to the seafood and fishing industry in Southeast Alaska.