Story last updated at 2:32 p.m. Thursday, April 18, 2002

Subsistence halibut regulations win tentative OK
FEDERAL MANAGERS APPROVED a plan for subsistence halibut fishing last week in Anchorage that legitimizes existing practices. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council first defined the subsistence fishery in 2000 after the Alaska Legislature failed to resolve the subsistence deadlock, then asked the Board of Fisheries for advice on gear limits, closed areas, bag limits and other management issues. The regulations approved last week allow for up to 30 hooks per person and 20 fish per day, with several exceptions. For example, there are no gear or harvest restrictions in Areas 4C, D and E, while Sitka Sound has substantial restrictions every summer, including a ban on using hydraulics and a limit of five fish per boat. The new regulations must be approved by the Secretary of Commerce before they go into effect.

COOK INLET SUBSISTENCE rules allow longline, handline, rod and reel, spear, jigging and hand-troll gear. Longlines are limited to 10 hooks per person, but up to three people can stack their gear together to create 30-hook skates. As elsewhere, the limit is 20 fish per day. Similar limits are in place for the road area of Kodiak Island and in Prince William Sound. The fishery is open to residents of more than 100 towns and villages with a tradition of subsistence halibut fishing, including Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek. Fishing is limited to the area south of the Boundary Line in lower Cook Inlet. Sale of subsistence-caught halibut is illegal, but fishermen can trade up to $400 worth of fish per year for cash from other subsistence users. Non-monetary trade is allowed with anyone.

HALIBUT LONGLINERS continue to enjoy relatively strong prices. Through Monday they had landed more than 6.4 million pounds, and Kevin Hogan of the Auction Block said prices on the Homer dock are hovering in the $2 to $2.10 range. Seward has drawn substantially more landings than Homer so far this year, which is typical. Homer landings usually increase as boats head west later in the season.

SITKA SOUND HERRING fishermen wrapped up their long and somewhat disappointing season early this week after harvesting just 9,670 tons <> nearly 1,400 tons less than allotted. Seiners caught some 8,300 tons in their first four openings, between March 27 and April 2. Then they had 10 days off as they waited for a sizable school of ripe fish to appear on the grounds. After the fleet agreed to fish the rest of the year as a co-op, the Department of Fish and Game reopened the fishery Friday, but split the remaining quota into two portions of 1,372 tons each. It took three days to harvest the first portion, however, and on Sunday the department closed the season for good, citing lower-than-expected returns.

KODIAK OPENED THIS WEEK to herring fishing, but the fish were not particularly ripe, said Kevin Brennan of the Department of Fish and Game. More than two dozen seiners and seven gillnetters were on the grounds in Paramanof Bay and Uganik Bay when the season opened at noon Monday, he said, and many made sets. But with major processors requiring a 160-gram minimum size, no deliveries were made. In both areas, larger, older fish were mixed with younger recruits, Brennan said, making for unacceptable averages. A few boats did find decent fish at Newmans Bay and West Sitkalidak Strait, landing the 50-ton guideline harvest level and closing those areas for the year. While the seine fleet is about the same size as last year, Brennan said he expects more gillnetters to fish <> if they can get their nets out of the snow. "I've had several guys say their gear is still buried," he said.

ONE OF THE FAMOUS Bristol Bay pilots who flew salmon out of the region for processing in Homer and elsewhere, Albert "Bert" Ball Jr., died in a snowmachine accident in late March. He was 59. Ball and brothers Newt and Jerry formed Ball Brothers in 1977, according to old family friend Freeman Roberts. They used several airplanes, including a C-82 Boxcar, a DC-6 and the last known working Pilgrim, a single-engine workhorse that now resides in the Anchorage Air Museum, Roberts said. Ball Brothers used to fly off the beach at Egegik and elsewhere with full loads of salmon, which they bought and then had processed elsewhere. The brothers eventually got out of salmon and concentrated on transporting fuel and other cargo, but sold their business in 1992, Roberts said.

ALASKA SEAFOOD INTERNATIONAL, the big Anchorage seafood processing plant, has laid off half its workers in what company officials say they hope will be a temporary slump in production. ASI was on its deathbed when a group of investors took it over last year, and last December the plant made a substantial shipment of salmon, halibut and cod products. Once those orders were filled, however, demand dropped, leading to the layoffs, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce. "Peaks and valleys, that's part of the business," ASI production manager Dale Girvan said.