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No sweeping changes in Pacific cod fisheries

Posted: October 30, 2013 - 1:54pm

The Alaska Board of Fisheries met last week to hash out proposals for the Pacific cod fisheries, but declined to make any of the substantial changes to state-water cod allocations that some fishermen were seeking.

There were a suite of proposals that would have shifted allocations to state waters in Chignik, Kodiak and Cook Inlet, and the board voted them down unanimously.

Those three areas are allotted 25 percent of the federal total allowable catch, with 3.75 percent for Cook Inlet, 8.75 percent that goes to Chignik, and 12.5 percent that goes to Kodiak. 

The proposals would have raised the overall allocation to 35.8 percent of the overall TAC. That would have raised the Cook Inlet quota to 4.45 percent of the federal TAC, Kodiak to 22.3 percent, and Chignik to 9.05 percent.

However, the board did vote to change the start date of the Chignik fishery to make it less likely that the large vessels would be able to participate, meaning that the small boat fleet would be able to catch more of the current allocation.

The start date was changed from March 7 to March 1, or seven days after the closure of the federal season, whichever is later.

One allocative proposal did bring about a change in quota. The proposal was to raise the state-waters allocation in the Western Gulf of Alaska from 25 percent of the federal TAC to 50 percent. 

The board declined such a drastic increase, but did agree to bump it up to 30 percent, the only change in allocations made at the meeting.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Jan Rumble said there was a contingent of fishermen at the meeting pushing very hard to get an increase in the state-waters allocations.

“It was for different reasons, including making sure that processors get enough fish to stay alive,” she said. 

Another proposal that involved Cook Inlet would have let longliners harvest any remaining state-water quota after July 15, even though longline gear is not part of the Cook Inlet state-water fishery.

That proposal also failed, and Rumble hinted that it was possible the intentions behind the proposal might have been less than pure.

“This was supposed to be allowing the sablefish fishermen to take that Pacific cod (quota) if there was any left,” she said. 

“People were a little bit scared that people would be going out and targeting Pacific cod, and not just catching it incidentally when they’re sablefish fishing.” 

She pointed out that very little sablefish fishing takes place in state waters around Cook Inlet, and that the current bycatch limits appear to be sufficient.

“We had charts showing that we weren’t really bumping up against the limits for bycatch in that fishery,” she added. 

Fishermen are allowed to keep 20 percent of their poundage in Pacific cod bycatch.

The board did, however, create two new fisheries, one for cod and one for Atka mackerel.

The cod fishery is in Area O, which is the Bering Sea side of the Aleutian Islands beginning at False Pass and stretching to the end of the Aleutians, is limited to vessels under 60 feet in length, and will be allotted three percent of the federal quota.

There was some opposition to the fishery, as well as a proposal to establish a moratorium on new cod fisheries in the area, but there was testimony that the fishery would not take quota from existing fisheries because the cod fishery is not totally allocated, due to large cod quotas and a cap on the total poundage of all species harvested from the Bering Sea.

In one of the stranger moves the BOF has made of late, they established a seine fishery for Atka mackerel between longitude 172 and 177, from just before Seguam Island to just past Adak Island.

The guideline harvest level for the fishery will be 10 percent of the federal TAC, which has fallen steadily in recent years, and which was lowered from a pre-season estimate of  42,083 metric tons to a finalized 25,920 metric tons for 2013. The 2010 quota was 66,787 metric tons, and 73,000 metric tons in 2009. However, the 2002 quota was as low as 5,000 metric tons.

Atka mackerel live in rocks and pinnacles in the passes between islands in the Aleutians, where currents can run up to 5 knots. They fetch very little in ex-vessel prices, 15.5 cents per pound in 2010.  They are generally caught with trawls, and sold by the ton. 

Homer fisherman Dan Veerhusen conducted the test fishery for ADF&G, and his summary provided to the board lays out the challenges for potential fishermen.

“Atka mackerel live near rocky bottoms and next to pinnacles, making them difficult to catch with traditional seines,” he wrote.

“The mackerel were plentiful in passes with strong currents, especially Amlia Pass. However, a traditional seining operation like for salmon or herring would not be able to set in currents of 3-4 knots and difficult bottom.”

The seine gear is limited to that type used in the Area M salmon and herring fisheries.

Veerhusen noted that when closing a set, the fish would dive for the bottom, driving them out of the net entirely. He said they were built for speed, making that an easily accomplished goal. They were also easily frightened by boat noise, making them even harder to catch.

His notes also pointed out a potentially fatal gear problem: the bottom portion of the nets would need to be made of the “the strongest material available” to protect from destruction by rocky pinnacles, while the rest would need to be made of something with much lighter material that would reduce the drag in the powerful currents. Such a difference in construction would likely tear apart at the seams between the two when hung up on rocky bottom.

The proposal was made by Board of Fisheries chair Karl Johnstone, and no mention was made of which fishermen might be seeking such a fishery.

All materials presented at the meeting can be found at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.main.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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