The Kodiak seine fleet is embarking on a new fishery to test the viability of catching pollock with that gear type, a species that is generally caught with trawl gear.
The fishery will take place in state waters, within three miles of shore, under a special “commissioner’s permit” issued by the Alaska Board of Fisheries in January.
It is likely that a close-shore pollock seine fishery might be successful in terms of catch; halibut charter boats in Homer frequently stop at the end of the Homer Spit and jig up pollock for bait, indicating large schools.
While the fishery was originally also proposed for Kachemak Bay, it is only being carried out in Kodiak, because seine gear is not a legal gear type for groundfish in Kachemak Bay, which is a critical habitat area.
It’s also an experimental gear type for groundfish, according to area management biologist Janet Rumble with the Homer office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“We’re not even sure that seine is going to work,” Rumble said.
One of the drivers behind the proposal is the perception that high groundfish populations, most notably pollock and cod, are driving down the shellfish populations, something Rumble acknowledged.
“(Groundfish) are more plentiful now than they were before,” she said. “Tanner crab are not as plentiful, Dungeness are gone, shrimp is gone, we have these other two (species) that seem to be prevalent, so let’s fish for them.
“I think people are interested in seeing how it would affect things if we had a little less pollock.”
Boats using jig gear for cod are also now allowed to keep pollock, without a limit as a bycatch species.
There are some questions about harvest timing in terms of market and product quality, and the timing of the first pollock test fishery, April 11 through June 8, reflects the desire to avoid conflict between the pollock and salmon seine fisheries.
Another big question is potential bycatch, Rumble said.
“If king salmon start coming up in the seines, these are things we’re all interested and worried about.”
There are a myriad of other issues involved, including pollock stock assessments, the upcoming federal pollock catch shares program, observer coverage, and more.
There are plans for a BOF work group to meet and attempt to hammer out those issues April 16.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.