The on-going impasse in Washington, D.C., that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of federal workers being furloughed is imperiling the Bering Sea king crab fishery and the profits it may generate for fishermen. The fishery is slated to open Oct. 15.
By most accounts, the 2013 salmon season in Alaska was a barn-burner.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is reporting that nearly 270 million fish were caught in the state this year, more than double last year’s catch of 120 million fish and eclipsing the previous record of 222 million fish caught in 2005.
Pink salmon catches in Southeast and Prince William Sound largely drove the numbers, with each area producing about 89 million pinks. State-wide, 215 million pinks were caught.
Homer-based North Pacific Fisheries Association has received a $147,400 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Fisheries Innovation Fund grant for a two-year project to use electronic monitoring in the pot and longline cod fisheries.
National Marine Fisheries Ser-vice is providing another $120,000 in matching funds.
NPFA president Buck Laukitis said the focus would be on the small boat cod fleet. The grant was awarded while NPFA was wrapping up a similar grant project for smaller halibut boats.
The Kenai River Sportfishing Association has used elements of a recently released study about food security on the Kenai Peninsula to assert that commercial fishing should be curtailed in favor of sport and personal-use fishing.
Not so fast, according to the one of the authors of the study, Philip Loring.
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 Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association’s attempt to get the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to clarify the objectives of the restructured observer program and provide a meaningful timeline for implementing the electronic monitoring program were largely unsuccessful at last week’s meeting.
The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation is seeking vessel owners for a fishing vessel energy audit pilot program.
The foundation notes that the high cost of fuel is a challenge that affects the entire seafood industry. More than 8,000 commercial fishing vessels are licensed in Alaska, and the operation of fishing vessels accounts for a large percentage of the fuel consumption in the seafood industry.
This is a significant area to target for energy efficiency and fuel savings.
The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery got underway last week with two openings March 27 and 28 that scooped up nearly half of the 11,549-ton quota.
The two openings combined produced a catch of 5,700 tons of very ripe, “excellent quality” herring, with roe counts averaging between 12.3 and 15.9 percent.
The fleet of 48 seine boats took some time off to allow processors to catch up, but then were given another opportunity March 30.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries met last week to look at statewide finfish issues, and took up a proposal submitted by the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force that would have provided new guidelines for the management of Kenai River chinook salmon for the upcoming season.
The proposal was aimed at allowing harvest of the abundant Kenai River sockeye salmon by the East Side setnet fishery while ensuring adequate escapement of late-run Kenai chinooks.
Bruce Knowles, chairman of the Mat-Su borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, is urging sport fishermen to call Gov. Sean Parnell and tell him to prohibit fishery managers from following the Upper Cook Inlet fishery management plan set forth by the Board of Fisheries during the upcoming salmon season.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Homer area management biologist Jan Rumble confirmed last week what fishermen have been saying all season: It has been a lousy pot cod season.
"It's going slower than it has in the past," Rumble said.
She reported that as of the end of last week, the fleet of boats 58 feet long and under have caught just 500,000 pounds of a 2.7 million pound quota.
Fishermen working the mouth of Kachemak Bay have reported catches of 5, 10 or 15 cod per pot at a time when they should be getting 20-30.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released an extensive look at the salmon season just passed mixed with a peek at the one coming up.
The state is predicting a bumper salmon crop next year in terms of numbers, with a total catch expected to be about 179 million fish, an increase of 30 percent over the 2012 season catch of 127 million fish. However, that number is driven by an expected odd-year jump in low-value pink salmon harvest expected to reach 118 million fish, compared to the 2012 catch of 68 million pinks.
The Bering Sea opilio crab season appears to be on track to be wrapped up in an average amount of time, despite tales from fishermen still on the grounds and returning crew members about very slow fishing or multitudes of undersized crab.
Deckhands reporting back to Homer have told stories of fishing on a 30-crab-per-pot average, which would not even cover fuel expenses with crab that average less than one and a half pounds each.
Cook Inlet commercial fishing groups are concerned about a potential lack of funding for studying the smolt out-migration on the Kenai River, a basic tool used to help determine future run strength.
There is funding for this year, but it is not currently included in the budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which is what the Legislature is currently working on.
The United Cook Inlet Drift Association has once again filed suit against the federal government over management of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery.
UCIDA and Cook Inlet Fishermen's Fund are suing the National Marine Fisheries Service over the decision to transfer control of the fishery from federal to state control, saying the move violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Homer boats and the Upper Cook Inlet salmon drift fishery take center stage Friday when the National Geographic channel airs “Alaska Fish Wars,” filmed during last summer’s hectic fishery.
Fishing vessels Night’s Edge, Paragon and North Crow are featured throughout the series, which covers six days of fishing over the course of three episodes.
Wes Humbyrd on Night’s Edge said that having a camera in your face all day was “interesting.”
The International Pacific Halibut Commission surprised most industry watchers by veering far off course from the staff recommendations for the 2013 halibut quotas and not implementing an expected 30 percent cut statewide.
The staff had recommended an overall quota of 22.55 million pounds, including the West Coast and British Columbia, with a quota for Alaska waters of 17.26 million pounds. That is down from an overall quota of 33.54 million pounds in 2012 and a state-wide quota of 25.51 million pounds.
Coast Guard safety inspections on most vessels traveling more than three nautical miles from shore that had been voluntary but were then made mandatory in October 2012 now appear to be voluntary again for another two years as a result of the recently signed Coast Guard authorization bill in Washington, D.C.
While Bering Sea crab boats and any vessel that carries a federal observer must have the decal that comes with a successful safety exam, those decals will now be good for five years instead of two.
Bill Brown of Juneau has resigned from the Alaska Board of Fisheries half-way through his second term, citing personal and personality reasons.
In a brief, three-line letter to Gov. Sean Parnell dated Jan. 7, Brown stated that his resignation was effective immediately, apologized for not fulfilling his term and thanked the governor for the opportunity to serve.
The Board of Fisheries Kenai River king salmon task force is back on track after canceling the second of their four scheduled meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 14, at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.