Pacific Marine Expo ’22 Recap

From left to right: Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association; Mike Conroy with the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, and West Coast Seafood Processors Association Executive Director Lori Steele during PME’s offshore wind panel on Nov. 18. Photo: Mark Nero.

Pacific Marine Expo, the largest commercial marine trade show on the West Coast serving commercial mariners, returned to Seattle in November. The event, held Nov. 17-19, attracted thousands of attendees from Alaska to California and beyond.

In addition to commercial fishermen, attendees included vessel owner/operators, engineers, architects, seafood processors, port officials, harbor engineers, marine surveyors and others involved in the maritime industry.

In addition to hundreds of exhibitor booths, the event featured panel discussions on various topics. The expo offers a variety of informative education sessions covering such topics as marine safety, business management, regulatory issues, technical advancements and more.

This year’s event featured 11 panel discussions, including “Alaska Seafood Market Updates and Opportunities,” “FY-22 Alaska Fishing Vessel Safety Update,” “A Peek into the Wheelhouse: The Voices and Perspectives of National Fisherman,” “U.S. Commercial Fishing and Offshore Wind” and “U.S. Coast Guard Presents: Crimes at Sea.”

One panel delved into the ongoing situation around the disappearance of the Alaska snow crab. The North Pacific fishing industry has been hit with a devastating blow by the closure of Bering Sea snow and Bristol Bay red king crab seasons for 2022-2023, with scientists saying that climate change has played a role.

Due to this and other factors, uncertainty in North Pacific fisheries has been growing. The Gulf of Alaska cod fishery was mostly closed in 2020 when the population suddenly dropped as a result of an extreme marine heat wave.

Also, groundfish, cod, crab, and other species have moved farther north in warm, low-ice years. Salmon populations have seen record highs like Bristol Bay and record lows like Yukon-Kuskokwim within the same ocean basin.  

The “What is Going on in the North Pacific? Closures, Climate Change or Catastrophe?” explored the growing uncertainty in Alaska’s Bering Sea fisheries, with a focus on snow crab as a case study.

The panel’s featured participants were Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken, Jessica Cross of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Executive Director Jamie Goen, Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation Executive Director Scott Goodman and Fishery Friendly Climate Action Coordinator Sarah Schumann.

During the 45-minute discussion, it was stated that it is not yet known for sure why the Alaska sea crab has been disappearing, but that various causes could be a combination of temperature impacts caused by climate change; predation via cod and other predators; disease; metabolic changes; and cannibalism.

Regarding what’s next for the snow crab, the stock is entering a rebuilding plan soon and that next year’s survey information is expected to be a critical next glimpse at where the stock stands, population-wise.

The offshore wind panel was one of the more interesting and volatile events of the three-day expo. As the offshore wind industry is planning new wind farms in California and elsewhere, the commercial fishing industry has been looking for answers to questions regarding how such developments affect their livelihood.

The three featured panelists during the nearly hour-long session were Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association; Mike Conroy with the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance; and West Coast Seafood Processors Association Executive Director Lori Steele.

Among the questions was whether the trade-offs worth the drive to develop offshore wind, with the panelists, as well as the audience of commercial fishermen implying that it might not be, due to the perceived negative impacts to the fishing industry.

Those impacts, they say, would include interference with food security; loss of coastal community jobs, displacement of port activities; marine mammal impacts; and disruption of NOAA surveys critical to sustainable fisheries management.

“Offshore wind energy needs more time for research, study and communication before any areas are leased,” read a slide presented during the panel discussion.

The “Crimes at Sea” panel, which was held by speakers Adam Carron and David Chaffin of the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), delved into criminal trends observed at sea and the mechanisms to report such crimes, particularly violent ones, such as physical altercations.

Carron and Chaffin said that there’s been a recent increase in crimes of violence occurring aboard U.S.-flagged fishing vessels operating in the North Pacific and that there’s a desire for CGIS to increase to partner and collaborate with individuals operating in the maritime industry.

They also said that the IS was participating at the expo in order to build awareness of criminal activity within the maritime industry and form stronger relationships with industry partners.

“Increased teamwork between the maritime industry and CGIS reduces maritime threats, reduces industry downtime and fosters a safer and more equitable industry,” Investigative Services said in a statement.

Early reporting of crimes is essential to providing the best response for victims, as well as reducing the likelihood of additional incidents and minimizes downtime for the fleet and personnel.

Among their advice is to separate the personnel involved in incidents when and after they occur and provide medical care, if needed. Also, Carron and Chaffin said, the scene of the crime should be preserved by taking photos of things that can’t be kept intact, and to not clean, dispose of or disturb anything without first contacting law enforcement.

This year’s expo was the first since the COVID-19 pandemic began to near its end, and some attendees said that they felt the event was back on the upswing compared to the past two versions of the event.

“We’ve been really busy, and there’s been a lot of interest in our booth,” Sarah Fisken, a marine operations specialist with the Washington Sea Grant research institute said. “It seemed really busy on Thursday; it was much better than last year, I think. It’s all been good.”

Jerry Dzugan of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association said that he’d heard that the event had “great” attendance this time.

“It seems like pre-pandemic times, not just in the number of people, but it feels like before the pandemic,” he told Fishermen’s News. “And that’s despite the fact that there’s two big fisheries that have been affected: snow crab, plus western Alaska and the salmon has been seriously affected.”

“There’s a lot more positive feel, I think. People are planning things. Those fishermen that have been diversified, they are surviving well now. Most fishermen that I know who are successful are involved in two or three fisheries.”