ALFA receives grant for whale detection and avoidance

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) is honored to announce a grant award from the NOAA Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program (BREP) to develop a user-friendly tool that assists fishermen with detecting sperm whales to avoid depredation on longline gear. The tool is a towed hydrophone array that can locate whales up to eight miles away and share this information between a network of fishermen. The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration of fishermen, NOAA fishery managers, university-based biologists, and hydrophone equipment developers. The project builds on prior work conducted by the Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Network (SEASWAP) during a 2016 pilot study, applying data and experience gained during that pilot work to automate a real time whale depredation avoidance network in the eastern Gulf of Alaska.

“ALFA’s goal is to provide fishermen with an effective means of detecting sperm whales before setting gear, to facilitate sharing this information with a network of fishermen, and assist the fleet with avoiding sperm whale depredation,” stated Dan Falvey, ALFA research director. “With support from the NOAA Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program, we hope to turn research oriented towed array hydrophone systems into a plug and play for the longline fleet.”

The three-stage project will: 1) use 2016 filed data to improve automated detection/localization functions, improve the user interface, incorporate automated real time sharing of whale detection data to allow avoidance, and upgrade existing SEASWAP hydrophone hardware; 2) field test the upgraded software/hardware on commercial fishing vessels and 3) incorporate the upgraded systems into ALFA’s whale-avoidance network.

“Sperm whale depredation on longline gear poses an economic challenge to fishermen and complicates stock assessment for fisheries managers,” noted ALFA executive director Linda Behnken. “Fishermen need tools to avoid whale depredation and this support from NOAA’s BREP will allow to create fishermen—and whale—friendly tools.”


Training the Next Generation of Local Fishermen

Photo courtesy ALFA/Alyssa Russell

What started as one commercial fisherman taking a handful of young people out fishing with him has evolved into a crewmember apprentice program with more than 12 participating boats and 50 apprenticeships over the past four years. Inspired by the need to address Alaska’s “graying of the fleet” – a threat facing commercial fisheries around the country – longtime Alaska salmon troller Eric Jordan on the F/V I Gotta took his first apprentice out in 2014 and was quickly overwhelmed by the demand.

Impressed by the interest, Eric teamed up with Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) to formalize the crewmember apprenticeship program and make it part of ALFA’s Young Fishermen’s Initiative. With the help of a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, ALFA was able to expand from two host skippers in 2017 to 12 in 2018, allowing the program to engage more young people and offer apprenticeships in new fisheries.

Read more on the Marine Fish Conservation Blog here


Elizabeth Herendeen is based out of Southeast Alaska, where she works with nonprofits such as the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and SalmonState to help protect and promote Alaska’s wild fisheries and fishing communities.

View all posts by Elizabeth Herendeen →

"Congress shouldn’t threaten fisheries’ future"

"H.R. 200 takes a giant step backward by opening the door for certain fishing sectors to exceed annual catch limits, jeopardizing the future for our fish, and increasing uncertainty for Alaska's fishermen.

While we should always strive to improve our laws, we should not be changing the MSA's actual foundation. Instead, we should be remodeling the kitchen, repairing the roof, and making other updates that don't change the actual framework of a law that's already proven effective and beneficial to the American public. We should be bolstering the core principles that have made the MSA such an effective management tool: shared accountability among all user groups to meet annual catch limits, accurate and timely data collection and sharing, and science-based fishery management that prioritizes conservation."

Click here to read the full oped by Carolyn Nichols 

Carolyn Nichols is from Sitka, where she has lived for more than 30 years and has made her living commercial fishing for halibut, sablefish, and salmon.

Image courtesy of Alyssa Russell 

"Alaska’s Fishermen Team Up to Map Ocean Floor, Secure Fishing Future" By Alyssa Russell

A great piece about ALFA's bathymetric sea floor mapping program, our FCN, and the importance of the Magnuson Stevens Act written by our very own and very talented Alyssa Russell!

"The mapping of the ocean floor, called “bathymetry,” gives fishermen the tools to visualize these complex structures. Because different fish species associate with different seafloor structures,
developing these maps not only results in more efficient, profitable commercial fishing businesses, but also in more sustainable fishing practices."

"FCN members share their data with ALFA at the end of each season....By sharing their fishing spots, catch data, and (in some cases) years of accumulated information with one another, participating FCN fishermen collectively benefit from more efficient fishing. The most recent release of bathymetric maps in 2018 has been the most detailed ever, boasting 140 million data points and maps that reveal previously hidden seafloor structure."

"These maps help fishermen catch their target species efficiently while controlling the catch of non-target species (bycatch), such as rockfish, and avoid the high relief terrain that hosts sensitive benthic species, such as corals and sponge, which are a critical part of the ecosystem. This prevents overharvest of long- lived and tightly managed rockfish species, protects important habitats, and makes our small-boat fishermen more competitive."

Click here to read the full article.

Image courtesy of Alyssa Russell

Acidic oceans cause fish to lose their sense of smell

"When carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater carbonic acid is formed, making the water more acidic. Since the Industrial Revolution, oceanic CO2 has risen by 43% and is predicted to be two and a half times current levels by the end of this century.

Fish use their sense of smell (olfaction) to find food, safe habitats, avoid predators, recognize each other and find suitable spawning grounds. A reduction in their ability to smell therefore can compromise these essential functions for their survival.

The new study provides evidence that economically important species will be affected by elevated CO2, leaving fish vulnerable because it affects their ability to detect odors."

click here to read the full publication

Banner image: Alyssa Russell

Retaliatory tariff impacts could be felt around the country

Research at the University of Maine has uncovered new seafood trade routes in Asia. These routes expose the growing number of middlemen in the market, which can make it hard to track trade routes. This research shows that China's market for lobster is much larger than anticipated.

"More attention to the complex trade routes among nations is needed to reduce the impacts that global trade has on coastal communities," Stoll says. "We don't want to find ourselves in hot water."

To read the whole article on Science Daily click here.

Fishing: It's a Family Affair

For ALFA Executive Director, Linda Behnken, fishing is a family affair. Linda's son has been fishing with her since he was five months old and she can tell its in his blood. "He wants to be at the rail as each and every hook comes aboard so he can see the fish and help land them."

Linda worries about the world she is leaving her son and is speaking out about what we can do to make a change.

"Our generation is leaving a frightening legacy to our kids. Accelerating climate change and spiraling impacts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ocean. Warm water dropping the ocean’s productivity and starving birds and fish. Empty hooks. Worried fishermen and struggling communities. Not the ocean – or world – I want my son or anyone else to inherit.

So, what can we do? First, commit to addressing climate change. Even slowing down the rate of change in the ocean and atmosphere will help; reversing the trend would be even better. Support Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s ocean acidification bill and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan’s marine plastics bill and urge them to turn research into meaningful action."

To read the full article click here.

BBC: Why Fish?

Why do we fish? Is it to feed our family, for the trill of the catch, to stay connected to our ancestors, or to make a living? This BBC recording allows you to experience other fishermen's opinions and experiences from around the world.

"People have been fishing for thousands of years – it is one of the last hunter gatherer activities. But increasingly it is becoming more difficult, as fish stocks dwindle or regulation limits the number of fishes that can be caught. Caz Graham asks why do people continue to fish despite these difficulties. She goes out into the Solway Firth in the north of England, with a group of haaf net fishers who use a traditional form of salmon fishing that dates back over a thousand years. She hears how new regulations have limited the number of fish that can be caught – something that the fishers say could threaten this form of fishing."

To listen to the entire broadcast featuring our own Linda Behnken click here.

Large Seafood Distributers Join Fight Against MSA Updates

10 large U.S. and Canadian seafood distributors joined the group in opposition to the proposed Magnuson-Stevens Act updates. These distributors are part of Sea Pact, a coalition that includes Fortune Fish & Gourmet, in Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica Seafood, in Los Angeles, California. 

"The group called on Congress Tuesday to reject Young’s bill, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, HR 200, saying it “risks the United States’ competitive advantage in the marketplace and weakens the sustainability of our fisheries”. It is urging lawmakers instead to “focus on supporting new market opportunities for sustainable U.S. seafood”."

Ask Representative Young to continue Alaska's legacy of science-based fisheries management that protects fish stock for future generations.

To read the full article click here.

Pink Salmon Disaster Relief Fund

Alaska has been allocated $56,361,332 in disaster relief funding for the 2016 Pink Salmon disaster in the Gulf of Alaska. This allocation is the largest of all fishery related disaster relief programs including those related to the 2017 hurricane season.

"NOAA Fisheries used commercial fishery revenue loss as the common metric to allocate funding among eligible disasters. In addition to revenue loss, the agency also took subsistence uses and long-term impacts to the fishery into account to further ensure an equitable distribution of funds."

To read the full press release from NMFS click here.