Halibut fishermen can expect fairly flat, if slightly lower quotas in most areas if commissioners settle on the “blue line” catches at next month’s International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting, set out last week at the interim meeting in Seattle.
The blue line is the level of catch that represents even odds for maintaining current levels of spawning stock biomass, what used to be called staff recommendations.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists are predicting a fairly robust commercial harvest of around 4.1 million sockeye salmon in Upper Cook Inlet next season, 1.1 million over the most recent 20-year average.
It is nearly 60 percent lower than the historical high harvest of 9.5 million sockeye in 1987, but certainly a marked improvement from the historical low of 497,185 sockeye in 1974.
A group of Bristol Bay fishermen have started a petition to have a mediator from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development intervene between Bristol Bay fishermen and the processors to negotiate a fair price prior to next season after being paid a base price of 50 cents this season.
Based on Alaska Statute 16.10.280, if one-third of Bristol Bay permit holders, or about 900 individuals, sign the petition, the state will assign a mediator.
The numbers are in and Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishermen have been griping about their season for a reason.
The total harvest of 3.1 million salmon was 15 percent less than the most recent 10-year average, and the ex-vessel value of around $24 million was 20 percent below the previous 10-year average, even though the total run was 7 percent above forecast.
The commercial sockeye harvest was 2.6 million.
And yes, it was late.
Warming oceans have brought news of many new and invasive species in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that crawfish, also known as crayfish or crawdads, a species of freshwater crustaceans related to shrimp and lobster, have been caught twice in the last four years in gillnets in the Kenai River, a long way from their native habitat of the swamps of Louisiana and other areas of the southern United States.
Congressman Don Young, never a friend to environmentalists but never before a foe of fishermen, is coming under fire for his proposed changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary tool used to manage federal fisheries.
Arctic cod are proving highly susceptible to warming ocean temperatures, but the good news is that Pacific cod, the kind caught commercially in pots and trawls around Alaska, not so much.
A NOAA lab in Newport, Ore., is reportedly the first to successfully spawn Arctic cod in captivity, and the resulting science has shown that the species has a very narrow window of temperature viability.
In waters between 32 and 36.5 F., and even colder with the lower freezing point of salt water, Arctic cod do very well. However, water above 41 degrees is fatal to them.
Red king crab fishermen in Nome parked their snowmachines today after a record harvest of around 95,000 pounds.
That eclipses the previous record harvest of 62,000 pounds set in 2013 and is 12 times the long-term average of 6,900 pounds.
The winter fishery takes place through the ice, and people ride snowmachines or drive pickups or four-wheelers, traveling anywhere from three-fourths of a mile to two miles or more offshore, according to Scott Kent, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The support from commercial fishermen and local governments apparently prevented a nominee for the Alaska Board of Fisheries with no commercial fishing experience whatsoever from being confirmed by the Legislature.
The nominee, Robert Ruffner, lost on a 30-29 vote.
The strongest opposition came from Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, who spent nearly nine minutes of the 35 minutes of discussion about Ruffner talking not about Ruffner’s lack of qualifications, but about how much unprecedented support Ruffner had.
Whales and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council potentially transformed the black cod fishery last week when the council voted unanimously to allow pots to once again be used in the fishery as a deterrent to whale predation.
Whales have become an increasing problem in the black cod fishery, with sperm and killer whales both apparently learning that when they hear the hydraulics come on, it means dinner.
The whales do not appear to be as attracted by halibut; they seem to prefer the oilier black cod.
Bad weather and a lack of markets has led to a basic shutdown of the Pacific cod season for state-waters pot boats before it really got started, at least for Homer boats.
“We’re not even close (to catching the quota),” said Jan Rumble, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
A bill that has been filed and failed every year since 2009 that would create a priority for personal use fishing seems to be getting legs this year.
Senate Bill 42, also called “The Alaskans-First Fishing Bill,” would prioritize personal use fisheries when restrictions are implemented to achieve a management goal. Only subsistence fishing would have a higher priority.
Ten days into the 2015 halibut season, prices are beginning to fall slightly, but production is nearly nonexistent, at least in the central Gulf of Alaska, Area 3A.
Stormy weather and big tides have conspired to make a slow start to the season in Area 3A, with the weather continuing to keep boats in port this week.
Boats in the area delivered only 146,000 pounds from 26 deliveries during the first 10 days, although deliveries in Southeast Alaska, Area 2C, topped out at 420,000 pounds from 62 deliveries.
Thanks to hatcheries coming back online, lower Cook Inlet is expecting a bumper crop of pink salmon this season.
Fishermen can expect a total run of 2.16 million pinks and a harvest of 1.72 million fish, compared to the latest five-year average harvest of 650,000 fish.
The experimental fishery to determine the feasibility of a seine fishery for pollock in state waters has finished up with mixed results.
The Gulf of Alaska pollock workgroup held its final meeting last month to discuss adding a limited entry state pollock fishery to Alaska waters for both trawl and non-trawl vessels and go over the results of the experimental fishery.
The boats fishing for Pacific cod with pots in the central Gulf of Alaska federal season finally wrapped up their 17.9 million pound quota Monday, a few days later than last year, but the trawl fleet is still fishing with only 30 percent of their 9,600-ton quota caught.
Obren Davis, area management biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said a combination of factors led to a slower pot season.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission boosted halibut quotas across most of the state at their annual meeting last week, reversing the downward trend of the past several years.
The quota statewide for the commercial fishery is 18.47 million pounds, up from 16.75 million pounds in 2014.
The breakdown by area is:
• Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, 3.8 million pounds, up from 3.32 million;
Gov. Bill Walker’s office has released the report from his fisheries transition team which sets out priorities, recommendations and possible barriers to success for Alaska fisheries.
The document is concise and well organized, with careful thought to possible actions to achieve success, barriers to success and possible actions to address those barriers.
People across the state, including House Speaker Mike Chenault, are questioning the Board of Fisheries’ unanimous vote to not even interview one of the apparently qualified candidates, Roland Maw, for Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner, and the lack of public process in reaching that vote.
Chenault sent a strongly worded letter to Gov. Bill Walker asking him to look into it and to consider replacing the board.
The halibut crisis in the Bering Sea and the potential for much stricter bycatch limits has the factory longliners and at-sea processing trawlers weighing in with comments to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which meets Jan. 26-30. That’s something they have not previously done.
The directed fishery for halibut could go as low as 370,000 pounds next season, while nearly 5 million pounds could be tossed overboard as bycatch.