• Two FDA committees hear testimony about genetically modified salmon

Size comparison of an AquAdvantage® Salmon (background) vs. a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling (foreground) of the same age. (CREDIT AquaBounty)

Size comparison of an AquAdvantage® Salmon (background) vs. a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling (foreground) of the same age. (CREDIT AquaBounty)

This week, two different U.S. Food and Drug Administration committees have been taking testimony about the future of genetically modified salmon. On Monday, one committee — the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine — heard testimony about whether genetically modified salmon is safe to eat and if it should be approved. Tuesday, the other committee — the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition — heard testimony about whether or not genetically modified salmon should have special labeling.

The issue is over a genetically modified Atlantic salmon produced by the Massachusetts firm AquaBounty Technologies, known as AquAdvantage®. The AquAdvantage® fish not only includes a growth gene from a chinook salmon, which makes it reach market size in 16-18 months instead of the usual three years, plus there is a gene from an eel-like fish known as an ocean pout. According to AquaBounty, all of the commercialized fish will be female and sterile, and the fish are designed to be raised in fresh-water pens or tanks on land instead of the usual salt-water pens where most farmed Atlantic salmon are raised.

Many in the biotech, food and other industries are pushing for the FDA to quickly approve the commercial production of this fish. But some consumer groups, food safety experts and others want the FDA to slow or end the approval process until more is known about the fish.

On Tuesday’s Alaska News Nightly show, the Alaska Public Radio Network reported that it may be some time before genetically modified salmon reach the market. However, the Los Angeles Times reported that the FDA seemed to give preliminary approval to the fish’s safety and the main issue was who is responsible for telling the consumer the fish has been genetically altered.

AquAdvantage salmon eggs are grown in incubator jars in a laboratory. (CREDIT AquaBounty)

AquAdvantage salmon eggs are grown in incubator jars in a laboratory. (CREDIT AquaBounty)

The idea of a genetically modified Atlantic salmon is of special concern to Alaska’s fishermen. Many fish farms in British Columbia raise Atlantic salmon, and there have been times when Atlantic salmon have escaped from the fish farm pens and mixed with wild Pacific salmon, including in Alaska. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game considers Atlantic salmon an invasive species, and already requests fishermen turn any Atlantic salmon caught in Alaska in to the nearest ADF&G office without being cleaned. According to ADF&G, there are concerns that Atlantic salmon might bring diseases to the five species of Pacific salmon and compete for food.

In addition to more recent cases of diseases among farmed fish and a high use of antibiotics, farmed Atlantic salmon also harmed the markets for Alaska fishermen trying to sell wild salmon (fish farming is banned in Alaska), and prices for Alaska fish dropped substantially when fish farms became more popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s only been in recent years that Alaska fishermen have started to regain some of their lost market share.

Sitka Conservation Society intern Molly Andrews has been keeping a blog this summer on the genetically modified salmon issue and what the fish could mean to Sitka. Molly’s blog has links to several stories about genetically modified salmon (recently called “Frankenfish” by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska). The blog also has contact information if people want to contact the FDA or other officials to make comments about genetically modified salmon.

• ADF&G offers basic hunter education course this weekend in Sitka

A Sitka black-tailed deer feeds on one of the barrier islands near Sitka

A Sitka black-tailed deer feeds on one of the barrier islands near Sitka

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is offering a two-day basic hunter education class this weekend in Sitka. The class takes place from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, July 9, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 10.

To register, students must purchase a $10 study packet that is available at the Sitka ADF&G office, 304 Lake St., Suite 103. The packet workbook must be completed before the start of the first class. The course is open to anyone, but it is designed for students ages 10 and older. A minimum of six students is needed for the class to take place.

For packet workbooks and additional information, contact the Sitka office of ADF&G at 747-5449. More information about the basic hunter education class also is available online at this link.

This class is required before hunters are allowed to get permits for some of Alaska’s game management areas. Successful completion of the class earns the hunter a certificate recognized by all other states, Canadian provinces and territories, and in Mexico.

• Alaska Department of Fish and Game releases first fishing report of 2010 season

Sockeye salmon hang in a smoker in preparation for the 2009 ANSWER Camp program

Sockeye salmon hang in a smoker in preparation for the 2009 ANSWER Camp program

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its first sport fishing report for the 2010 season.

The Sport Harvest Rates for the Week of April 26-May 2, 2010, includes a sampling of marine boat creel surveys from the ports of Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau and Yakutat. The current report looks at chinook (king) salmon and halibut harvest rates for the past week, including how long it typically took an angler to catch a fish.

Fishing was going well for chinook salmon in Sitka, with seven rod hours per salmon harvested. This is better than last year’s 25 rod hours for the same week and the 33 rod hours for the same week in 2008. It also was better than the five-year average (2005-09) of 13 rod hours per salmon. Chinook salmon fishing was better than average in Petersburg and Wrangell, but slower than normal in Juneau and Yakutat, with Ketchikan yet to report a fish.

Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat were the only harbors to report sport catches of halibut last week, and all reported five rod hours per halibut. That is somewhat better in Sitka than the five-year average of eight rod hours per fish for the same week. No coho (silver), pink (humpy) or chum (dog) salmon were counted during the creel surveys.

The report also listed salmon derbies this spring and summer in Southeast Alaska.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game website still needs to remove last year’s reports and add this year’s, but that should happen in the near future. Future fishing reports should be updated every week through the summer, and they will be found at this link once the site is updated. News releases and emergency orders issued for the 2010 sport fisheries in Southeast Alaska can be viewed at this link.

Sport Harvest Rates for the Week of April 26-May 2, 2010

• Wanton waste of deer meat, a record high herring quota and other local foods stories in the news

Over the past couple of weeks, at least 10 Sitka black tail deer corpses have been found in Sitka with lots of edible meat still on the bone but the prime cuts missing. According to the Anchorage Daily News, state wildlife officials are searching for the hunters, and wanton waste charges may be coming for those involved. There were six deer found off Green Lake Road, then four deer were found near Harbor Mountain Road five days later.

The Sitka Local Foods Network encourages the responsible and sustainable harvesting of traditional subsistence foods, such as deer, but we must respect the resource and use the entire animal. Not only is leaving edible meat in the field wasteful, but the last couple of years have been down years for deer survival and the actions of these wasteful hunters may mean fewer hunting opportunities next year for hunters who need the deer to feed their families. Anyone with information about the cases is asked to call Alaska Wildlife Troopers at 747-3254 or, to remain anonymous, Wildlife Safeguard at 1-800-478-3377.

In other local foods news, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game established a record sac roe herring quota for the 2010 season, a quota of more than 18,000 tons (more than 4,000 tons higher than last year’s then-record quota). The commercial herring fleet is very happy with the higher quota, but KCAW-Raven Radio reports local subsistence gatherers worry that the record quota will harm their ability to gather herring eggs on hemlock branches, a popular subsistence and barter food for local Tlingít and Haida residents. They also worry two straight years of record quotas will hurt the resource, since herring also serves as a key forage food for salmon, halibut, whales, sea lions and other species in the region.

The Juneau Empire reported that the State of Alaska asked for an extension to reply to an inquiry on subsistence management from the federal government. The federal government took over some management of subsistence in Alaska more than a decade ago because state laws weren’t in compliance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which calls for a rural preference on subsistence in times of shortage, and the federal government may be expanding its role in subsistence management.

The Anchorage Daily News reported on Alaska pork being ready for the freezer at A.D. Farms, and that pork will be sold at the indoor farmers market at Anchorage’s Northway Mall. The story included a wrap-up of other local foods available at the market, and it had a recipe for crock-pot cod.

Laine Welch’s Alaska fishing column was about how more local fish is appearing in school lunch menus.

The Anchorage Daily News Alaska Newsreader feature reported on several Arctic travelers getting trichinosis from eating undercooked bear meat. The National Post of Canada also had a story on travelers eating undercooked bear meat, while the New York Times had an article about how trichinosis is common in bear meat that isn’t cooked properly.

The Anchorage Daily News had an article about how Alaska’s rhubarb probably first came from Russia.

Miller-McCune magazine had an article about how Alaska’s complex salmon politics can serve as a model for sustainable fisheries elsewhere in the world.

The Alaska Public Radio Network reported on a woman from Aniak, Dee Matter, who has taken freezing her food to a new level. The story also was on APRN’s Alaska News Nightly show.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had a feature article about Kotzebue hunter and trapper Ross Schafer and the “Eskimo” way of life.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had an article about a conflict between farmers and hunters over the future of the Delta bison herd.

The Juneau Empire ran a story about glaciers providing an important food source.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels wrote about magazine gifts for gardeners.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an Associated Press article about Monsanto’s role in the business of agriculture, especially the way it squeezes out competitors in the seed industry.

Finally, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog featured an article about a new study about food security challenges in Alaska.

• Hunters, do you know what’s in your ammo and how it affects your meat?

Sitka black-tailed deer (photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tongass National Forest)

Sitka black-tailed deer (photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tongass National Forest)

Hunting for wild fowl and game is a part of normal life in Alaska. It’s the way many of us fill our freezers, and it’s been part of the traditional subsistence lifestyle for centuries. Many of us feel the natural, wild fowl and game we hunt is healthier for our families than store-bought poultry, beef or pork.

In many cases the fowl and game we hunt is healthier, but our choice of ammo can negate that. Using non-toxic shot, in other words using steel shot instead of lead, has been a regulation in waterfowl hunting for many years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has an informational page about using non-toxic shot. The Institute for Wildlife Studies has informational pages about alternatives to lead and the California non-lead awareness program.

The reason lead shot has been banned from waterfowl hunting is because it gets into the food chain, including humans, and lead can cause major health problems if it gets into our blood streams. In November 2008, a study released by the North Dakota and Minnesota health departments detailed the affects of lead fragments in venison. The study was done after food pantries in North Dakota in March 2008 were told to no longer accept donated ground venison because of lead fragments.

Many older bullets were solid lead, or lead covered by a thin covering of copper. But there are many newer alternative types of ammo that don’t use lead, including bullets that are solid copper, copper with a tungsten alloy core and a polymer tip, and copper alloy with a polycarbonite tip. So if you’re one of those folks who have gone hunting for our local Sitka black-tailed deer in recent weeks, do you know what’s in your ammo?

• ADF&G hunter education safety courses offered in Sitka

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is offering an Online Basic Hunter Education Field Day and a Basic Hunter Education class this month in Sitka.

The Online Basic Hunter Education Field Day will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19. This field day course is only for students who already have successfully completed the electronic portion of the Online Basic Hunter Education class. Upon passing the online exam, students will receive a field day qualifier certificate, which grants admission to the field day. Students must have their field day qualifier number before registering for the field day. Register online at http://www.hunt.alaska.gov (click the “Hunter Education/Shooting” link at the bottom-right corner of the grid listing services). Detailed information about each course can be found on the Hunter Education/Shooting link.

The three-day Basic Hunter Education class will run from 6-8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24-25, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26. To register, students must purchase a $10 study packet available at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Sitka. The packet workbook must be completed prior to the start of class.

Classes will be held at the Sitka Sportsman’s Association building located at 5211 Halibut Point Road. For additional information, please contact the Sitka office for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 747-5449.