Homer Alaska - Seawatch

Story last updated at 3:46 PM on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cold temps don't stop first halibut opening

Unseasonably cold temperatures, heavy freezing spray and small craft advisories did not deter a few hardy fishermen from taking advantage of what is usually the highest price of the halibut season by setting gear for the Saturday opening.

There were six deliveries scheduled for Monday in the central Gulf of Alaska for a total of 67,000 pounds, and 21 deliveries scheduled for Southeast for a total of 70,000 pounds. Thirty-five hundred pounds were delivered over the weekend. Deliveries in British Columbia totaled 82,000 pounds as of Monday.

Kevin Hogan, owner of the Auction Block, said that opening prices would be "north of six bucks," but that the large amount of fish being delivered in all areas was holding things in check. He had not heard any firm prices as of Monday morning, and said some boats were delivering without a price.

There are reportedly about 2 million pounds of halibut left in the freezer from last season, which also was expected to keep the price from going sky-high as the season opened.

The 64 percent increase in this season's Bering Sea opilio crab quota is turning out to be a mixed blessing, as boats have been playing chicken with the advancing ice edge or just tying up and going home to wait for it to move north of the Pribilof Islands.

The crab fleet has asked for an extension of the May 15 closing date for the fishery, anticipating that the quota will not be able to be filled in the time that will be available when the ice edge finally moves back. However, that decision may be awhile in coming, according to assistant area management biologist Britta Baechler with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dutch Harbor.

"We are still in the process of making a decision there," she said. "Probably what we're going to do is hold off until there's been more harvest and until the season has progressed a bit farther, maybe until the end of April to really crack down on making any decisions about that."

Nearly half of the 89 million pound quota must be delivered north of latitude 56, most of it destined for the Trident Seafoods plant on St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands. St. Paul harbor has been mostly iced in for weeks.

The ice moved back briefly a couple of weeks ago, and boats set gear on the northern fishing grounds. Then the ice moved back south at a rate of 50 miles over a 24-hour period, swallowing $1,000 pots by the hundreds.

Baechler said that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is not sure how many pots have been lost yet.

"Anecdotally people have told us a few different things," she said. "When we go down and interview the captains after every trip we record how many lost pots they reported for each trip. But this season's a little different, they're not counting them as lost until they go out and look for them after the ice recedes a bit."

Baechler said it was difficult to gauge how many were gone for good, but figured " at least a couple hundred" were under the ice.

However, a week-end call from a Homer-based crew member who was waiting out the ice in St. Paul indicated it may be far more.

The deckhand, Kyle Hock aboard the Tempo Sea, reported that two boats who were also in St. Paul had lost nearly 300 pots just between the two of them.

On Monday, ADF&G opened some additional waters to crabbing that have been closed to protect Pribolof blue king crab stocks to try to speed the season along, but with St. Paul harbor iced in and boats unable to deliver their mandatory poundage there, it remains unclear how beneficial that move will be.

About 40 percent of the opilio quota remains.

The long, slow season is causing headaches for other fisheries, as well. Duff Hoyt, with Icicle Seafoods in Homer reported that some boats that had been scheduled to provide tender service for the upcoming Sitka Sound herring fishery have canceled in order to stay on the crabbing grounds and wrap up their quota.

He said that there were fortunately enough other boats around to cover, but the problem is snowballing.

"It's affected Sitka," Hoyt said, "And it's going to affect (the) Togiak (herring fishery)."

Hoyt said the last ice forecast he had seen did not have the ice moving out of the St. Paul area until April 20. However, strong southeast winds are moving into the area today, so conditions may improve sooner.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program's popular one-day refrigeration workshop is coming to Homer next week, but the registration deadline is today.

The class teaches fishermen how to maintain, operate and troubleshoot on-board fishing vessel refrigeration equipment, and is directed at fishermen who have refrigerated seawater, or RSW, systems on board. It includes a half day of classroom instruction and a half day of supervised hands-on activity.

Fishermen also will learn about refrigeration theory, system winterization, controller programming and system sizing.

The class was most recently held in Kodiak in November, and at the time, Julie Matweyou with the MAP program explained some of the hands-on equipment used.

"We have a training unit that is specifically designed for this purpose," Matweyou said. "It's a portable cut-out where you can see what's happening inside the system."

The instructor is from Integrated Marine Systems in Port Townsend, Wash., and is trained in classroom instruction.

"He's not just a technician," Matweyou noted. "He's very good at the teaching aspect of it."

The class has been around since 2005, and has had about 220 participants so far.

"It has been very popular," Matweyou said. "Very successful."

Class size is limited to 25, and will take place at Kachemak Gear Shed, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cost of the class is $200, which includes a refrigeration manual.

For more information or to preregister, go to www.marineadvisory.org/workshops or call MAP at 1-888-788-6333.

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