This week on The Alaska Show Podcast we sit down with Jared Fuller, CTO at Saltwater Inc in Anchorage, to discuss fisheries observers, why Alaska's seafood resources are so well-managed, opportunities and risks in aquaculture and commercial fishing in Alaska, and working with other countries in management and innovation.
Alex and JJ discuss Fairbanks Comic-Con with a special insider report, changes in Alaskan liquor laws, and Fur Rendezvous in Alaska News and Events.
Intro, News and Events (1:20)
Interview with Jared Fuller (10:55)
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- Inside scoop on Comic Con in Fairbanks by special on-scene reporter Rita
- New bill in Senate Finance Committee could change the way Alaskans drink about breweries, wineries, and distilleries
- Fur Rondy Carnival and Sled Dog Races this weekend
Fisheries observation is about gathering data about the fishing stock and understanding the heath of the resource.
Observers are in cod and pollock mostly in Alaska. Also in the Rockfish fishery. They’re on small to large vessels.
Observers are not in Salmon or Crab, which are done through the state.
State and federal agencies actually hire the fisheries observers.
When observers are on the boat the relationship between the observer and fishermen runs the gamut from fun and friendly to confrontational.
Jared is from Texas originally and his degree was in biology. He never grew up around the ocean or salt water. He got to experience, first hand, the difficulties of boat life as an observer.
Observer recruitment tends to happen at colleges that have big marine biology programs.
His first boat was a pollock boat out of Akutan. Pollock is a big trawl fishery – he went out in B season that starts in May. It was tough fishing – they were scratching and trying to find the fish. He had to get used to boat life. He’s always recording information and doing paperwork – documenting when fishing starts and when the bags go in and when they haul. They collect samples as they dump fish. They collect scientific specimens like fish ear bones for age data and checking roe to see the fertility of the fish.
Alaska's fisheries are known as being well-managed for a few reasons. One, the resource is so vast and productive. Two, management focuses on sustainability and took all the best lessons and from US history and applied it to Alaska.
Fisheries observers tend to be college students – they turn and burn. Jared stuck on with Saltwater Inc serendipitously. He injured his knee to the point of having to have surgery. At that point Saltwater was also playing around with electronic monitoring. They were looking for someone with computer skills, which Jared had, and someone who knew boats and biology as well. Saltwater was awarded a 120-vessel contract for swordfish and tuna on the east coast.
The term “electronic monitoring” is a catch-all for a lot of technology – sensors, video, etc. – that helps companies gather data without an on-scene observer. It took off for Saltwater in 2014 with this contract in the Atlantic after 2-4 years of research with pot cod fishermen in Alaska.
Alaska requires a lot of innovation and it creates a tenacious attitude among the fishermen and people. Saltwater Inc is one of the few companies that exports expertise and services from Alaska to the rest of the US.
Jared believes in recent years people are concerned about where their seafood comes from.
Fish don’t respect political borders - we all share the same ocean. It’s important that several countries are willing to come together and discuss sustainable management practices. There are treaties and regional management groups that do that.
Alaska’s economy is truly international. The fishing market is very connected to Asia, the airport is a gateway to the lower 48 for cargo from Asia.
Saltwater Inc has done different work with fisheries including marine mammal and protected species monitoring. Alaska Marine Mammal program - every few years they monitor a specific port that is fishing salmon and observe the salmon fleet and its interaction with marine mammals. That’s state business.
In Antarctica they’re doing private industry business. There are people fishing for Antarctic Toothfish, similar to Patagonia Toothfish aka Chilean Sea Bass. The group’s hope is to provide monitoring so fishermen are playing fair. Often fishermen want monitoring so that the playing field is level.
There’s a perception of commercial fishermen that they’re trying to steal from the ocean, but in reality fishermen care more about the resource than anyone.
If Jared had a crystal ball to see which fisheries do best and worst...the oceans are warming quickly, and the polar regions are warming faster than the equatorial regions. When you have changes in current and you don’t move cold water you won’t have the same productivity. Obviously the big one now is Pacific Cod in the Gulf of Alaska. There was a massive uptick in black cod. That change is happening very quickly. Everyone and every species will be connected by this because it’s all connected.
While oil brings in more state revenue - fishing is arguably much more important to the state on a community level.
Optimistically, the science, technology, and communication levels are higher than ever in the fishing business. There’s a huge push for fish traceability globally. People want to know where the fish is caught, who caught it, who processed it, and where it travelled.
The internet has opened up a lot of opportunities for fishermen - a lot of fishermen are developing their own marketing strategy and supply chain to go direct to consumer.
The big new commercial product potential out of Alaska’s oceans are seaweeds. They can be used from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to biodegradable packaging and food. There will have to be a palate change for seaweed to really pick up in the US as a food, but there have been a lot of changes in the last 30 years and Jared things seaweed is possible to become popular food. Alaska’s coastline is so productive.
Shellfish farms like oysters are another exciting area of growth.
The permitting process for seaweed is trying to adapt to growing demand. There are big companies in Juneau and Kodiak - Barnacle and Blue Evolution, respectively.
Jared is working with a group that discusses with groups in the nordic countries to analyze where food is coming from and best practices in the northern regions of the world.
Americans aren’t big seafood eaters - even Alaskans aren’t compared to Europeans. The Nordic countries have a highly computerized processing industry, great fishing data, and a different stock and brokering assessment. They do fin fish aquaculture, which we don’t do here. They do more on the seaweed side as well because they have more sophisticated processing facilities for pharmaceutical and biotech uses.
The biggest aquaculture challenge in Alaska is logistics. How do you grow a product, process it, and get it to market?
In terms of using other products of the fish for other purposes than food, it’s very hard to do at small scale, but people are talking.