If you listen to radio in Alaska, or if you’re involved in the fishing industry, you’ll probably recognize the voice of Laine Welch.
“When I came here, I had never even seen a salmon,” she said. “My life was cod fish and haddock and lobsters.”
Welch served as host of Alaska Fish Radio for more than three decades, bringing news and perspectives on the fishing industry to listeners around the state.
Now, at age 72, she’s hanging up the mic.
“I have a lot of mixed feelings,” she said. “I really feel like the time is right. I mean, radio is my passion. And I think radio rules in Alaska, because of its remoteness. I have to admit that once I hit 70, I really got tired of the daily deadlines. But when I originally had decided to get out of everything, the writing and the radio, I really had some difficulty accepting that, because I still love what I do. I still learn something new every day.”
Welch came to Alaska in 1986 from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She got a job producing the Alaska Fisheries Report at KMXT in Kodiak, where she learned the rhythms of commercial fisheries across the state.
“I really, really cut my teeth on not only the fishing activity around the state, but marketing impacts and how Alaska fits into the whole global network of the seafood commodities trade, which is the largest in the world,” she said.
Over the six years she worked there, the longtime news director of Dillingham’s radio station, KDLG’s Bob King, helped Welch learn the ropes of the industry.
“Five different species fished with different gears at different times. I was clueless,” she said. “And Bob King there in Dillingham just sort of took me under his wing and explained to me about the different salmon species and how they were fished. And he really saved my bacon, I’ll tell you.”
King helped Welch learn about salmon and crab, because of Bristol Bay’s sockeye and red king crab fisheries. And he suggested that Welch start writing for trade magazines.
“I had name recognition with radio by that time, after doing the Alaska fisheries report for six years,” she said. “So it was really easy for me to get sponsors. I started writing a newspaper column at the request of the Anchorage Daily News in 1991. And, you know, the rest is history. Here I am 30 radio stations and nearly 20 print publications, including three nationals, 30 years later.”
When Welch first started reporting on the seafood industry, she said, the state was flush with money. That extended to public radio, which meant she was able to travel to fisheries meetings.
Welch said what captured her attention was how fish influenced the economy.
She thinks it’s important for anyone who reads or listens to her work to understand how Alaska fits into the global commodities market. Those are her favorite shows – and they’re the most popular.
“On my website, those are the ones that I’ll get huge spikes if I talk about crab markets, or salmon markets, or what the catch forecasts are,” she said. “To me, it’s all about the marketing of the seafood. And you know, where it goes, what makes it sell what the trends are? Those are my favorites.”
Reflecting on her work, she said much has stayed the same. But there have been some major changes.
“Yes, Alaska has made big inroads in adding value to a lot of its products,” she said. “For example, in your region, gosh, you know, 20 years ago maybe 70% of the sockeye pack would go into cans in Bristol Bay. Now, that’s more like, you know, maybe 20, 25% going into cans because the processors have diversified their markets more into filet and specialty products.”
But she said most of Alaska’s seafood industry isn’t as efficient or as innovative as places like Canada, Iceland and Japan. A couple communities, like Kodiak, are using all of the fish. But that’s an exception to the rule.
“All of the other places, for the most part, are grinding up and dumping all those heads in the skin, and livers and other parts that could go into you know, a global, multi gazillion-dollar market for collagens, chondroitinase and oils. So to me, that’s something that I find that Alaska is getting left behind on.”
Welch will continue to write a weekly column for the Anchorage Daily News. And she’s ready for a new adventure.
“Maybe I’ll get into podcasting,” she said. “I want to get into some blogging. And who knows, I think there’s going to be a lot of unexpected things that will come my way that I haven’t even thought up yet.”