Homer Alaska - Seawatch

Story last updated at 3:51 PM on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NMFS gives catch boost to Gulf of Alaska cod fishermen

Cod fishermen of all gear types in the Gulf of Alaska got a boost when the National Marine Fisheries Service revised the 2012 Total Allowable Catch upward by 7,050 metric tons, or 15.5 million pounds, at the beginning of the season. The increase came to 11 percent of the season total.

The adjustment was made on the basis of the 2011 stock assessment, according to Tom Pearson with the NMFS office in Kodiak, and was targeted to the "A" season fishery which began in January.

"Whether the TACs go up or down, they're likely to be harvested in the 'A' season before the final harvest specifications can become effective, typically in March," Pearson said. "That's why that action was taken, to make more ... cod available in the 'A' season."

The rising tide floated all boats, Pearson said.

"Each gear type that receives an allocation would see an increase as a result of that action," he said.

This is the first cod season operating under the new sector splits, which allocates a percentage of the quota to the four separate gear types, trawls, pots, longline and jig.

Some fishermen had questioned the percentage of the allocation given to longline vessels when the trawl and pot fisheries had both closed and the longliners still had 50 percent of their TAC left, perhaps suggesting an imbalance in the way that quota was allocated.

Pearson disputed that notion.

"It's more likely a reflection of really tough weather we've had this winter."

He said NMFS is anticipating that the longline fleet under 60 feet in length will harvest their allocation by about March 10, and the over-60 feet fleet should be done in three weeks to a month.

NMFS also redistributed 1,800 metric tons, nearly 4 million pounds, of cod quota from the jig fishery to the boats under 60 feet fishing with pots in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands area, over half of the jig fleet's original allocation of 3,263 metric tons.

Pearson said that was a result of the lack of effort in the jig fishery.

"The vessels using jigging gear are not going to be able to harvest what they've been allocated," he said.

He noted that as of Feb. 15 not a single ton of cod had been harvested by the jig fleet in the BS/AI area.

A vessel owner involved in a collision during the 2011 sac-roe herring fishery in Sitka Sound is one of several fishermen and a fishing group who have submitted proposals for a catch-sharing plan for the fishery at the Board of Fisheries meeting taking place in Sitka this week.

Petersburg fisherman Bill Menish, owner of the F/V Talia, offered up proposal 233, with an issue statement that reads, "The Olympic style of fishing sac roe herring in Sitka is continuing to jeopardize the safety of the participants in the fishery. Collisions and damage to vessels and their gear has been increasing every year. The competitive nature of the fishery has evolved from individual fishermen vying against each other to groups and 'combines' of fishermen blocking and pushing vessels away from the opportunity to catch fish. Group members have deliberately set nets in front of other vessels with no intention of catching fish for the purpose of blocking boats away from one of the partner boats attempting to make the catch. In other instances, group members will position their vessels in front of others so their partner vessels can have a clean shot at a school of fish. Safety is the first concern."

Menish's vessel sustained $40,000 worth of damage in last year's collision with the F/V Arctic Fox, operated by Daniel Crome. Alaska State Troopers have charged Crome with reckless operation of a watercraft.

Objections to the co-op plan include the argument that historically top-producing boats would get the same share of the catch as everyone else, something that both Menish and the authors of another catch-share proposal, the Sitka Herring Group, dismiss.

Sitka Herring Group's proposal states, "There was a myth that some fishermen caught consistently more than others. However, the (Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission) numbers show that there isn't a single fisherman in Sitka who has doubled the fleet average and the majority of fishermen are huddled around the middle zone."

The proposals face an uphill battle. The Board of Fisheries has rejected such ideas at meetings during the two previous Southeast cycles, in 2006 and 2009.

Also, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Fisheries exceeded its authority when it allowed the majority of the salmon seine fleet in Chignik to form a fishing cooperative, saying it did not have the power to allocate fish within a fishery.

The co-op program was instituted by the board in 2002 at the request of the Chignik Seiner's Association to eliminate competition for the resource and improve quality.

Of the 100 permit holders for the Chignik fishery, 77 voted to join the co-op. Those 77 boats were given 69 percent of the quota, and used 18 to 20 boats to actually catch the fish.

The Southeast Board of Fisheries meeting wraps up March 4.

The BBC reports that the fish farming operations of Scottish Salmon and Meridian Salmon Group are launching a full-scale operation to introduce wrasse fish in their salmon pens to combat sea lice.

More than 250,000 wrasse will be deployed at marine sites over the next three years.

The initiative, which is supported by The Crown Estate, aims to show the value of wrasse to help manage levels of sea lice and reduce the dependency on veterinary treatments.

Both companies will introduce the wrasse alongside other husbandry methods that help counter the naturally occurring parasite that attaches itself to both farmed and wild salmon.

They will study the potential benefits of introducing the lice-eating wrasse, or "cleaner fish," for animal welfare and the marine environment.

Open-ocean salmon pens in British Columbia have been blamed by anti-salmon farm activists for harming pink salmon runs by introducing sea lice to juvenile fish migrating out from nearby streams.

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