The International Pacific Halibut Commission is preparing for its annual meeting beginning Monday, Jan. 23. While things seem to have stabilized, there are still some areas expected to go down, most notably Area 2C in Southeast Alaska, where the plan is to reduce the catch by nearly 18 percent. Area 2C rose 6 percent last season.
President Barak Obama took the time in the waning days of his administration to sign a bill that consolidates a number of treaties that protect fisheries in the North Pacific and other areas.
As with any season, 2016 had plenty of winners and losers in the Alaska commercial fishing industry.
The year started off with a huge sigh of relief from Upper Cook Inlet salmon setnet fishermen when the Alaska Supreme Court over-ruled a decision by a Superior Court judge that would have allowed a ballot measure to ban setnets in “urban areas,” but was targeted at Cook Inlet.
In a battle that dates back to at least the Gov. Frank Murkowski administration, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council put on hold indefinitely any movement toward an IFQ program for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery for cod and pollock.
At its meeting earlier this month, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten put the brakes on the rationalization program after basically reaching an impasse with the trawler/processor group Groundfish Forum that was pushing for it.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries is preparing to move forward on a formal motion asking the Legislature to review the state’s fish habitat permitting process at the request of 13 Cook Inlet-area stakeholders.
The group, who made the formal request when the fish board met in Homer earlier this month, wants the board to ask the Legislature to update Title 16, the section of Alaska statute that covers the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s responsibilities.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries wrapped up its meetings for Lower Cook Inlet issues on Saturday, with one small but substantial change for the pot cod fleet.
A proposal brought forward by Homer fisherman Alray Carroll reduced the areas closed to the fleet that are more sheltered in winter months, aiding the small boat fleet.
Area management biologist Jan Rumble said there were seven proposals related to groundfish, four of them proposed by Alaska Deapartment of Fish and Game staff, and most largely housekeeping, clarifying language and logbook requirements.
As salmon forecasts for 2017 continue to come in statewide, Bristol Bay is looking right on track for the most recent 10-year average, and 27 percent above the long-term mean which saw some poor returns in years as recent as 2011.
There is hope yet for at least a limited bairdi Tanner crab fishery in the Bering Sea.
The Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fishermen reports that the Board of Fisheries has placed an additional item on the agenda of its January meeting in Kodiak, proposal 278.
“This proposal would potentially allow the Bering Sea District commercial Tanner crab fishery west of 166 west longitude to be opened at low levels of Tanner crab abundance,” according to the board.
With daunting problems facing the Alaska economy and its seafood industry, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute heard from fishermen and processors at their annual meeting last week.
Having suffered one of the worst salmon seasons in recent history, especially the crash of several pink salmon runs which are looking at disaster declarations, as well as forces beyond the scope of ASMI and other groups, Alaskan fishermen are facing many marketing challenges, including with halibut.
Adding to a long list of salmon fisheries that did not produce as expected in 2016, the Copper River drift gillnet fishery fell well short of expectations, in spite of above average time and effort.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game preliminary report, the notoriously dangerous Copper River Flats sockeye/king salmon fishery, which opened, as usual, to much fanfare on May 16, was expected to produce 21,000 chinook, 1.62 million sockeye and 201,000 coho salmon through the end of the season.
A mini-price war on the Homer docks turned out to be a boon for a small handful of halibut fishermen this week, with one fishermen selling his large fish, over 40 pounds, for $7.80 per pound. The lowest price on the dock was $7 straight.
Halibut prices have been strong all year, but the flurry of price increases this week went into uncharted territory.
Turmoil is roiling the Bristol Bay salmon fishery long before boats start ramming each other and running over nets.
One major issue is price, which last year averaged 50 cents per pound before refrigeration and production bonuses.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its annual Commercial Fisheries Management Report for the 2015 season in Upper Cook Inlet.
While the report does extensively cover what happened in the salmon fisheries, it also covers lesser known harvests such as razor clams, smelt and herring, in addition to regulatory changes, enhancement efforts, participation and ex-vessel prices.
Also included are personal use and educational fisheries.
Bad weather, zero state funding to prosecute the fishery, and the early arrival of the fish has thrown a bit of a wrench in to the gears of the Togiak sac roe herring fishery.
“Windier than all get out,” is how area management biologist Tim Sands described current weather conditions.
As of Monday, the total harvest was 7,489 tons, out of a total quota of 28,782 tons.
There is no doubt that 2016 sets or breaks records across the board.
As homeowners turn their thoughts to spring cleaning this time of year, harbormasters are looking at ways to remove abandoned and derelict vessels from their harbors in Alaska.
Enter Cook Inletkeeper and the abandoned and derelict vessels, or ADV, program.
Herring season is in full swing, with Sitka Sound already wrapped up, Kodiak opening April 15 and Togiak on the horizon.
The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery fell far short of the quota, catching only about two-thirds of the possible harvest, as managers tried to balance catching the fish before they spawned with not overwhelming processors.
The fishery opened March 23, and managers announced the closure on March 29, with 4,700 tons left on the quota after a harvest of 10,000 tons.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s recently released outlook is predicting a relatively robust sockeye salmon run for Upper Cook Inlet this season. That’s coupled with a fairly strong Kenai king salmon run, which should allow the department to more closely follow the management plan and loosen restrictions of recent years, especially for the setnetters.
The preseason forecast for sockeye salmon is 7.1 million total run, with a commercial harvest of around 4.1 million, which is 1.2 million over the 10-year average.
The Kachemak Bay campus of Kenai Peninsula College is offering half a dozen classes for boat owners, deckhands and others next month at either minimal cost or free.
The classes include three put on by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, which are Drill Conduc-tor, Stability Training and Ergonomics For Fishermen.
The other three are Deckhand Skills, Vessel Systems and Aluminum Fabrication.
A little more than three days into the 2016 halibut season, Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, has had the fleet hitting it the hardest.
Nearly 260,000 pounds had been landed in Southeast, compared to less than 50,000 in Area 3A, Central Gulf of Alaska, and no activity in other areas of the state.
The state-wide directed commercial halibut quota is just over 17 million pounds.
Homer fisherman Buck Laukitis is one of two Alaskans chosen by Gov. Bill Walker to fill two seats being vacated on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The other is Kodiak resident Theresa Peterson.
The council has 11 voting members, and oversees federal fisheries from 3 to 200 miles from shore.
Laukitis and Peterson both bring coastal community and small boat mentality to the council, which is otherwise largely populated with trawler and CDQ big boat experience.