For the first time since its inception, the state-waters Pacific cod pot fleet quit fishing with a substantial amount of the quota still in the water.
The boats have all hauled in their gear, leaving 700,000 pounds in the water. The fleet of boats under 58 feet in length landed 1.7 million pounds this season, and the over-58-foot fleet maxed out their quota of one million pounds a week later than last year on March 9.
The state-waters season opened Feb. 10, one day earlier than last year.
The smaller boat fleet, which fishes the upper reaches of the area, around Kachemak Bay, has reported skimpy catches all season, while the larger boat fleet, which generally fishes the lower end of the area, around Chugach Passage, had relatively strong catches.
However, the smaller boats mostly fish with lighter pots which are unsuitable for the stronger tides experienced in that area, and the weather experienced on the outer coast also tends to keep them closer to home.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Jan Rumble said that although this is her first season with this fishery, she sees three basic causes for boats packing it in with so much quota still in the water.
“No price, the fish are not where they were before and fuel prices are really expensive,” she said.
Prices were weak all season, ending up at 28 to 30 cents per pound, about 10 cents per pound less than last season. Rumble said that it remains to be seen what will happen to the rest of the quota.
During the last Board of Fisheries cycle for the fishery, the regulation that closed the season May 1 regardless of remaining quota was discarded, so the season does not close.
However, the department will have to decide whether to keep the state-waters season open on Sept. 1 when the federal “B” season begins or operate a parallel fishery.
Boats can fish in state waters during the federal season, but in normal years their pounds come off the federal quota.
Ice is hampering what is left of the Bering Sea opilio crab season, keeping boats from areas where the crab are and preventing boats from getting into the harbor at St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs to deliver their crab.
Nineteen boats are still trying to scrape up the last 5 percent of the quota.
Kathleen Cole, sea ice program leader at the National Weather Service office in Anchorage, said that pack ice is still fairly thick in the central Bering Sea and could be there awhile, although it is beginning to soften around the edges.
Boats still on the grounds have reported recently that although there is plenty of crab, the school is mostly under the ice where they are not able to be caught.
Earlier in the month the ice moved off the grounds briefly and catches vastly improved, but those grounds were far enough north and west that crew members said they were able to see Russia on the radar.
That was short-lived, as the ice blew back in and drove them off the productive grounds.
Cole said that situation should improve soon.
“At this point, with the Bering Sea getting so much sunshine, the strips of ice that are along the edge are melting,” she said.
“Because so many of (the boats) are close to or beyond the edge, the currents that are coming up along the Bering Shelf are helping to push the ice back, even though we have north to northeast winds in that area.”
However, access to St. Paul may take awhile.
“If this melting continues, the Pribilofs could open up, but the currents around St. Paul aren’t usually strong enough to push the amount of ice that’s there away,”she said
She anticipates St. Paul being ice-bound at least through this week, and that even when the ice leaves, it will probably come and go for awhile, through the first week of May or later.
The other potential area for ice problems was Dillingham, where boats are preparing to head to Togiak for the upcoming herring fishery.
Cole said that surprisingly, the ice in Dillingham is nearly gone, although there is still a lot of ice in the rivers.
Strong offshore winds this winter drove the pack ice out from shore, which created a weaker layer along the beach, and the recent warm weather has mostly melted that away.
“It is darn near gone,” Cole said. “Even that little patch that usually floats around offshore in Bristol Bay and causes so much hassle at the end of winter, even that’s almost gone.”
She said there was still some ice around Hagemeister Island and a “significant” amount of river ice to come out, but the sea ice is pretty much gone.
“It’s gone faster than I thought it would,” she said.
The Cordova Times is reporting that Alaska’s Fishermen’s Fund, an emergency medical fund for commercial fishermen now has a benefit limit of $10,000, up from the old maximum of $2,500, according to program director Velma Thomas.
The fund, which is financed from revenue received for commercial fishing licenses and permit fees, has approved 185 claims since the fiscal year began July 1, with another 100 claims still pending, she said.
A lot of the claims are for hand and back injuries, and more than 50 percent of the claim applicants have no other insurance, said Thomas, who works for the Alaska Division of Workers’ Compensation.
The Fishermen’s Fund was established back in 1951 to provide for the treatment and care of Alaska licensed commercial fishermen who have been injured while fishing on shore or off shore in Alaska.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development oversees the program, with assistance from the fund’s advisory and appeals council.
All applicants for funds must have valid commercial fishing licenses or limited entry permits before the time of injury, Thomas noted.
Regulations call for primary insurance, if available, to be billed first. This includes private health or vessel insurance, and public programs, including Veterans’ Affairs or Medicare.
The Fishermen’s Fund will pay before Medicaid only, and protection and indemnity insurance deductibles are not covered by the Fishermen’s Fund, said Thomas.
More information on the fund and how to apply for benefits is at www.labor.state.ak.us/wc/ffund.htm
Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.