Web posted Thursday, April 4, 2002

Seawatch


SITKA HERRING SEINERS were on the verge of wrapping up their season after a week of steady fishing. The fishery started with a bang last Wednesday when the fleet raked in nearly 4,000 tons of high-quality herring in an opening that lasted two hours, 18 minutes. Roe content was 11 percent, according to the Department of Fish and Game in Sitka. The fleet stood down Thursday, giving processors a chance to absorb Wednesday's catch, then caught 1,995 tons in a 30-minute opening Friday. Again on Saturday, fishermen had the day off so processors could catch up. On Sunday fishermen had 90 minutes, but landed only 1,035 tons, bringing their total harvest to 6,923 tons. The fleet remained on two-hour notice Monday and Tuesday, but large schools of fish were few and far between, according to Fish and Game biologist Bill Davidson. However, the fleet was turned loose from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and boats found some 1,400 tons more, bringing the total harvest to 8,300 tons. Davidson said additional fishing time would be allowed Wednesday or today if schools could be located.

HOMER SEINER JAMIE ROSS said Tuesday he and others were hoping for a chance to fish on those smaller schools, and that the season wasn't over. It was similar to 1996, he said, when the fish were deep and fishermen thought they had a week to wait, but overnight the herring flooded to the surface. "There were fish everywhere," he said. "Our pilot said it was the most fish he'd ever seen in Sitka." A day later the fish began to concentrate in a few bays, and "before Fish and Game could react to it, they were spawning," Ross said. Most fishermen fished without a price, he said, and were hoping for $400 a ton.

KENAI SPORTFISHING advocate Brett Huber is one of three people nominated to fill open seats on the Board of Fisheries. Huber is the executive director of Kenai River Sportfishing Association and has worked in the Legislature. Gov. Tony Knowles also chose longtime Petersburg fisherman and former state fisheries biologist Gerry Merrigan and Art Nelson, a former fisherman who currently works for the At-Sea Processors Association and in the past has worked in the AYK Region. If the Legislature confirms the three, they will replace outgoing board members Dan Coffey, Grant Miller and Virgil Umphenour. Coffey and Miller had wanted to step down, but Umphenour, a Fairbanks salmon processor, had asked for another three-year-term.

RUSSIAN FLOATING PROCESSORS will not be allowed into Alaska waters this summer to buy pink and chum salmon, Gov. Tony Knowles said last week. Global Seafoods, a Seattle-based company, had asked for permission to bring in 13 Russian floaters to Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak. The company cited fleet cutbacks by several American companies as a reason to bring in the additional buying power. The governor can approve bringing in foreign vessels to buy fish if it can be shown that domestic processors are unable to handle the projected capacity. However, a survey showed that American processors have the capacity to meet Department of Fish and Game projections for pinks and chums. "I realize that concerns remain about fishermen without markets," Knowles said, but the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not permit him to approve the foreign involvement. Global had said it would pay eight cents a pound for the pinks, which U.S. processors said would allow Global to undercut them in world markets.

BERING SEA OPILIO CRABBERS can continue to fish even if the stock falls from its current levels after the Board of Fisheries last week revised the harvest strategy. Under the old policy, fishing was closed once the guideline harvest level dropped below 25 million pounds. Now the board has approved fishing for as little as 15 million pounds, but with more restrictive pot limits, said Forrest Bowers of the Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska. Under the new guidelines, the current pot limits apply when the harvest is 25 million pounds or more. If the GHL is 20 million to 25 million pounds, pot limits drop to 100 for boats 125 feet or less and 120 for boats 125 feet or greater. With a harvest of 15 million to 20 million pounds, smaller boats can use 70 pots and larger boats can use 90. The board approved the measure unanimously. It also approved resumption of the red king crab fishery at Adak, which had been closed since 1995. The fishery will have a 500,000-pound quota.

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