The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery got underway last week with two openings March 27 and 28 that scooped up nearly half of the 11,549-ton quota.
The two openings combined produced a catch of 5,700 tons of very ripe, “excellent quality” herring, with roe counts averaging between 12.3 and 15.9 percent.
The fleet of 48 seine boats took some time off to allow processors to catch up, but then were given another opportunity March 30.
However, according to KCAW public radio, only 173 tons were caught, and several boats were reportedly packing it in for the season, reminiscent of 2012 when less than half the quota was harvested.
While not ruling out the possibility of a second wind, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Dave Gordon said he has not identified a biomass of major size.
The 2013 quota took a precipitous drop from the previous year, which set a record at 28,829 tons, which eclipsed the previous record in 2011 of 19,430 tons.
However, only 47 percent, or 13,534 tons, was harvested last season when the majority of the biomass spawned out between the third opening on April 7 and the closure of the fishery on April 12 while processors were struggling to clear the decks.
The Cordova Times reports that research into raising Kodiak red king crab in hatcheries is progressing well at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, with some 360,000 larvae stocked in six 1,200-liter tanks.
The larvae are being fed a diet of enriched Artemia and microalgae that yielded the highest hatchery survivals in recent years, according to research biologists at the Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation and Biology Program, or AKCRRAB.
The larvae are now reaching the last larval stage, known as glaucothoe.
Researchers are planning on the first experimental release of the hatchery-raised juveniles into the natural environment this fall at Cozy Cove near Old Harbor on Kodiak Island. There, they will measure the effects of release density on the growth and survival of juvenile crab in their first year.
Scientists from the Kodiak lab of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will monitor field sites to determine the best density for potential future releases.
In addition, trawls will be conducted to estimate predator abundance and tethering experiments will help determine relative predation risks to the juveniles.
This is the first year of a planned multiyear set of experiments designed to develop optimal release strategies for red king crab and to estimate the economic efficiency of a possible wild release program.
Restoring the Kodiak red king crab fishery to its former glory, when the quota was around 95 million pounds in the mid-1960s, has been a dream for many.
The crash of the fishery, which has been closed completely for 30 years, has been a mystery, with researchers looking at warmer water temperatures, increased predation from groundfish as a result of banning large foreign trawlers from the Gulf of Alaska, and overfishing.
None of the studies have been conclusive.
Other crab stocks around the state began declining around the same time, which could actually point to any or all of the theories playing a part.
Releasing the juvenile crab into the wild faces many challenges, one of which is their lack of experience with predators, having been raised in tanks.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game website notes that studies comparing hatchery-raised crab with no predator experience to those that had prior predator experience showed that the latter were more successful at avoiding detection, surviving and being predators themselves.
In one study, research biologist Ben Daly placed cod and halibut in a tank with some of the cultured juvenile red king crab for 48 hours.
“The crabs could kind of get used to being bumped or touched by the fish,” Daly said.
Next, to see if this event had an effect on the juvenile crabs, both previously exposed crabs and never exposed crabs were exposed to the fish, but with no physical contact (cages in the tank separated the fish from the crabs). The previously exposed crabs hid more quickly.
Even with no physical interaction, the previously exposed juveniles could sense the presence of a predator.
The presence of halibut was much more threatening than the cod.
Daly’s research also has revealed specific sources of predation on juvenile crabs in nearshore waters of Juneau.
In the summer of 2011, Daly and his colleagues tethered the tiny crabs, about the size of a pea, with fishing line and set them in the water with video cameras.
“We used the wimpiest fishing line we could find, and glued it to their carapace with a bead of superglue,” he said.
So, what is eating these crabs right after they settle? Well, as it turns out, mostly hermit crabs, and then various groundfish, such as kelp greenling, rock sole and Arctic shanny.
Although the juvenile crab were actually interacting with the natural environment, they were tethered and those that were not eaten could be pulled back in.
AKCRRAB is a research and rehabilitation project sponsored by NOAA Fisheries, the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, community groups, industrial members, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the Alaska Sea Grant College Program.
More information about the program and other hatchery projects can be found at http://alutiiqpridehatchery.com/.
Gov. Sean Parnell has reappointed Tom Kluberton and Vince Webster to three-year seats on the Board of Fisheries.
Kluberton is the owner and operator of Fireweed Station Inn near Talkeetna. He served as a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly and the borough mayor’s Blue Ribbon Sportsmen’s Committee.
Kluberton was co-owner of K&K Service & Rental, and director of market research for Netsys Technologies Inc. He also worked as an information systems and management consultant for the state of Alaska.
He is reappointed for a second term on the board.
Webster is a drift and set gillnetter in the Naknek and Kvichak district in Bristol Bay, in addition to working for the National Park Service as an engineering equipment operator.
Webster has previously worked in the facilities and maintenance division of the Lake and Peninsula Borough School District and Katmai National Park.
He is reappointed to a third term on the board.
The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Legislature.
Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at email@example.com.