Seawatch

Slightly lower quotas expected for halibut fishermen

Halibut fishermen can expect fairly flat, if slightly lower quotas in most areas if commissioners settle on the “blue line” catches at next month’s International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting, set out last week at the interim meeting in Seattle.

The blue line is the level of catch that represents even odds for maintaining current levels of spawning stock biomass, what used to be called staff recommendations.

New regs likely will add to cost of fishing

Boat owners should be bracing for a new round of regulations for older boats more than 50 feet in length. 

The Alternate Safety Compliance Program, part of the U.S. Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2010, is due to take effect in 2020, which seemed far into the future when it was first proposed, but is now only a bit more than four years away.

However, the rules have to be written by 2017 in order to give boat owners time to come into compliance.

Strong harvest of sockeye in Cook Inlet forecast for ’16

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists are predicting a fairly robust commercial harvest of around 4.1 million sockeye salmon in Upper Cook Inlet next season, 1.1 million over the most recent 20-year average.

It is nearly 60 percent lower than the historical high harvest of 9.5 million sockeye in 1987, but certainly a marked improvement from the historical low of 497,185 sockeye in 1974.

Bristol Bay fishermen seek state’s help on prices

A group of Bristol Bay fishermen have started a petition to have a mediator from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development intervene between Bristol Bay fishermen and the processors to negotiate a fair price prior to next season after being paid a base price of 50 cents this season.

Based on Alaska Statute 16.10.280, if one-third of Bristol Bay permit holders, or about 900 individuals, sign the petition, the state will assign a mediator.

Another big sockeye run predicted for Bristol Bay

Bristol Bay is expecting another whopping sockeye salmon run, the third consecutive year of above-average harvests.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists predict that 46.5 million sockeye will return to area rivers, meaning a commercial harvest of around 30 million.

The forecast range is actually somewhere between 36 million and 56 million sockeye, which even at the low end would be a decent run.

Numbers tell sad story of season

The numbers are in and Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishermen have been griping about their season for a reason.

The total harvest of 3.1 million salmon was 15 percent less than the most recent 10-year average, and the ex-vessel value of around $24 million was 20 percent below the previous 10-year average, even though the total run was 7 percent above forecast.

The commercial sockeye harvest was 2.6 million.

And yes, it was late. 

Dockside safety exams mandatory for some fishing vessels

Commercial fishermen operating more than three miles from shore have until today to get a mandatory dockside safety exam from the United States Coast Guard.

Boats that are out of the water or tied up for the winter will need one before resuming operation next season.

The dockside exams have been voluntary since the 1990s, but the latest Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill created the mandatory requirement.

Red swamp crawfish turning up in Alaska

Warming oceans have brought news of many new and invasive species in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that crawfish, also known as crayfish or crawdads, a species of freshwater crustaceans related to shrimp and lobster, have been caught twice in the last four years in gillnets in the Kenai River, a long way from their native habitat of the swamps of Louisiana and other areas of the southern United States.

Research shows Pacific cod can withstand warming better than Arctic cod

Arctic cod are proving highly susceptible to warming ocean temperatures, but the good news is that Pacific cod, the kind caught commercially in pots and trawls around Alaska, not so much.

A NOAA lab in Newport, Ore., is reportedly the first to successfully spawn Arctic cod in captivity, and the resulting science has shown that the species has a very narrow window of temperature viability.

In waters between 32 and 36.5 F., and even colder with the lower freezing point of salt water, Arctic cod do very well. However, water above 41 degrees is fatal to them.

Red king crab fishery breaks records

Red king crab fishermen in Nome parked their snowmachines today after a record harvest of around 95,000 pounds.

That eclipses the previous record harvest of 62,000 pounds set in 2013 and is 12 times the long-term average of 6,900 pounds.

The winter fishery takes place through the ice, and people ride snowmachines or drive pickups or four-wheelers, traveling anywhere from three-fourths of a mile to two miles or more offshore, according to Scott Kent, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Ruffner doesn’t win legislative approval

The support from commercial fishermen and local governments apparently prevented a nominee for the Alaska Board of Fisheries with no commercial fishing experience whatsoever from being confirmed by the Legislature.

The nominee, Robert Ruffner, lost on a 30-29 vote.

The strongest opposition came from Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, who spent nearly nine minutes of the 35 minutes of discussion about Ruffner talking not about Ruffner’s lack of qualifications, but about how much unprecedented support Ruffner had.

NPFMC OKs pots to deter whales

Whales and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council potentially transformed the black cod fishery last week when the council voted unanimously to allow pots to once again be used in the fishery as a deterrent to whale predation.

Whales have become an increasing problem in the black cod fishery, with sperm and killer whales both apparently learning that when they hear the hydraulics come on, it means dinner.

The whales do not appear to be as attracted by halibut; they seem to prefer the oilier black cod. 

Bad weather keeping halibut boats tied to dock

Ten days into the 2015 halibut season, prices are beginning to fall slightly, but production is nearly nonexistent, at least in the central Gulf of Alaska, Area 3A.

Stormy weather and big tides have conspired to make a slow start to the season in Area 3A, with the weather continuing to keep boats in port this week.

Boats in the area delivered only 146,000 pounds from 26 deliveries during the first 10 days, although deliveries in Southeast Alaska, Area 2C, topped out at 420,000 pounds from 62 deliveries.

Bumper crop of pinks expected

Thanks to hatcheries coming back online, lower Cook Inlet is expecting a bumper crop of pink salmon this season.

Fishermen can expect a total run of 2.16 million pinks and a harvest of 1.72 million fish, compared to the latest five-year average harvest of 650,000 fish.

Questions raised about experimental fishery

The experimental fishery to determine the feasibility of a seine fishery for pollock in state waters has finished up with mixed results.

The Gulf of Alaska pollock workgroup held its final meeting last month to discuss adding a limited entry state pollock fishery to Alaska waters for both trawl and non-trawl vessels and go over the results of the experimental fishery.

Chuitna Mine comments due by March 10

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has kicked off a short, 15-day comment period for people to weigh in on the proposed Chuitna coal mine across Cook Inlet that would result in a strip mine through the Chuitna watershed.

The mine is being proposed by PacRim, a Delaware corporation that wants to mine coal to ship to China and other developing Asian markets. 

Trawl fleet continuing to fish for Pacific cod

The boats fishing for Pacific cod with pots in the central Gulf of Alaska federal season finally wrapped up their 17.9 million pound quota Monday, a few days later than last year, but the trawl fleet is still fishing with only 30 percent of their 9,600-ton quota caught.

Obren Davis, area management biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said a combination of factors led to a slower pot season.

Safety workshop scheduled for Feb. 21

The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association is bringing its safety drill conductor workshop back to Homer Feb. 21 at the Bidarka Inn.

The course runs from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and covers cold water survival skills, man overboard recovery, flooding control, firefighting, abandon ship procedures and much more, and includes an in-water portion in a survival suit that is usually done from a vessel in the harbor.

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