The 2017 halibut season got underway as scheduled on March 11 despite uncertainty from President Donald Trump’s administration that had instructed every federal agency to remove two regulations for each one put in place, as well as put a 60-day hold on any new regulations.
Alaska fishermen and others who rely on programs funded by the federal government are wondering whether the federal resources will be available to keep the industry safe and productive.
While setnet salmon fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet potentially saw some easing of restrictions on their fishery at the Alaska Board of Fisheries meetings in Anchorage taking place the last 15 days, the drift fleet has not necessarily been so fortunate.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission is preparing for its annual meeting beginning Monday, Jan. 23. While things seem to have stabilized, there are still some areas expected to go down, most notably Area 2C in Southeast Alaska, where the plan is to reduce the catch by nearly 18 percent. Area 2C rose 6 percent last season.
Adding to a long list of salmon fisheries that did not produce as expected in 2016, the Copper River drift gillnet fishery fell well short of expectations, in spite of above average time and effort.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game preliminary report, the notoriously dangerous Copper River Flats sockeye/king salmon fishery, which opened, as usual, to much fanfare on May 16, was expected to produce 21,000 chinook, 1.62 million sockeye and 201,000 coho salmon through the end of the season.
Once again, the 2016 Upper Cook Inlet salmon season fell far short of expectations.
The 2016 commercial harvest of around 3 million salmon was 12 percent less than the most recent 10-year average harvest of 3.5 million salmon of all species, but even lower for sockeyes.
The dollar value was also lower, coming in at $22.3 million, 23 percent less than the 10-year average.
While all five species of salmon are caught and sold in Cook Inlet, sockeyes have made up almost 93 percent of the value for at least the past 20 years.
A mini-price war on the Homer docks turned out to be a boon for a small handful of halibut fishermen this week, with one fishermen selling his large fish, over 40 pounds, for $7.80 per pound. The lowest price on the dock was $7 straight.
Halibut prices have been strong all year, but the flurry of price increases this week went into uncharted territory.
Turmoil is roiling the Bristol Bay salmon fishery long before boats start ramming each other and running over nets.
One major issue is price, which last year averaged 50 cents per pound before refrigeration and production bonuses.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its annual Commercial Fisheries Management Report for the 2015 season in Upper Cook Inlet.
While the report does extensively cover what happened in the salmon fisheries, it also covers lesser known harvests such as razor clams, smelt and herring, in addition to regulatory changes, enhancement efforts, participation and ex-vessel prices.
Also included are personal use and educational fisheries.
Bad weather, zero state funding to prosecute the fishery, and the early arrival of the fish has thrown a bit of a wrench in to the gears of the Togiak sac roe herring fishery.
“Windier than all get out,” is how area management biologist Tim Sands described current weather conditions.
As of Monday, the total harvest was 7,489 tons, out of a total quota of 28,782 tons.
There is no doubt that 2016 sets or breaks records across the board.
As homeowners turn their thoughts to spring cleaning this time of year, harbormasters are looking at ways to remove abandoned and derelict vessels from their harbors in Alaska.
Enter Cook Inletkeeper and the abandoned and derelict vessels, or ADV, program.
Herring season is in full swing, with Sitka Sound already wrapped up, Kodiak opening April 15 and Togiak on the horizon.
The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery fell far short of the quota, catching only about two-thirds of the possible harvest, as managers tried to balance catching the fish before they spawned with not overwhelming processors.
The fishery opened March 23, and managers announced the closure on March 29, with 4,700 tons left on the quota after a harvest of 10,000 tons.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s recently released outlook is predicting a relatively robust sockeye salmon run for Upper Cook Inlet this season. That’s coupled with a fairly strong Kenai king salmon run, which should allow the department to more closely follow the management plan and loosen restrictions of recent years, especially for the setnetters.
The preseason forecast for sockeye salmon is 7.1 million total run, with a commercial harvest of around 4.1 million, which is 1.2 million over the 10-year average.
The Kachemak Bay campus of Kenai Peninsula College is offering half a dozen classes for boat owners, deckhands and others next month at either minimal cost or free.
The classes include three put on by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, which are Drill Conduc-tor, Stability Training and Ergonomics For Fishermen.
The other three are Deckhand Skills, Vessel Systems and Aluminum Fabrication.
A little more than three days into the 2016 halibut season, Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, has had the fleet hitting it the hardest.
Nearly 260,000 pounds had been landed in Southeast, compared to less than 50,000 in Area 3A, Central Gulf of Alaska, and no activity in other areas of the state.
The state-wide directed commercial halibut quota is just over 17 million pounds.
Homer fisherman Buck Laukitis is one of two Alaskans chosen by Gov. Bill Walker to fill two seats being vacated on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The other is Kodiak resident Theresa Peterson.
The council has 11 voting members, and oversees federal fisheries from 3 to 200 miles from shore.
Laukitis and Peterson both bring coastal community and small boat mentality to the council, which is otherwise largely populated with trawler and CDQ big boat experience.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is considering revising its regulations on water management, and seeking public input.
Cook Inletkeeper and the Chuitna Citizens Coalition are suggesting finally implementing the “fish first” policy suggested by Gov. Bill Walker’s transition team.
The Cook Inlet state-waters cod season is progressing as usual, albeit with a smaller quota and smaller fish.
The 2016 total Pacific cod state-waters quota for the Cook Inlet management area is 4.1 million pounds, with 85 percent of the quota, or 3.5 million pounds, going to pot boats, and 15 percent, or 611,000 pounds going to jig.
This represents a reduction of about 1 million pounds from the 2015 quota.
News outlets have been offering conflicting reports about what to expect for next season’s salmon prices in recent days, with fisheries reporter Laine Welch saying in the Alaska Dispatch News that things do not look good and Seafoodnews.com run by John Sackton saying they do.
Sackton reported Tuesday that salmon roe sales are picking up in Japan. For the current year, ending March 31, U.S. exports of salmon roe to Japan are predicted at about 6,000 tons, and that good roe is in short supply.
Commercial fishing vessels under 36 feet operating more than 3 miles from shore will be required to have a life raft as of Feb. 26, in addition to the mandatory dockside safety exam.
The rule requires approved survival craft that ensures no part of a person’s body is in the water.
It is an expensive requirement.
Eagle Enterprises in Homer has rafts starting at about $3,000.
After the first two years, they have to be sent in and re-packed every year for an additional cost.