DRIFTNET AND SETNET FISHERMEN across Upper Cook Inlet reported better than expected catches of sockeye salmon this week. A Sunday spotting flight reported solid numbers of fish throughout the Upper Cook Inlet east side districts, according to Duff Hoyt, who works at a buying station for a local processor. On Monday, fishermen caught 286,000 sockeye during the districtwide 12-hour opener, with 229,000 of those coming from from driftnetters. That brings the upper Cook Inlet sockeye catch to a total of 721,000. Dockside prices are reportedly at 53 cents a pound for Cook Inlet sockeye. Escapement numbers for the Kenai River continue to climb, with 195,000 fish in the river as of Tuesday. Some 53,000 of those fish arrived on Sunday. The Kasilof escapement stood at 110,000 sockeye as of Tuesday.
UPPER COOK INLET FISHERMEN saw a legal bid seeking to give them a larger allowable harvest fall short in a Kenai courtroom Tuesday afternoon. Alaska Superior Court Judge Harold Brown denied a motion for a temporary restraining order that sought to hold off the higher spawning escapement targets the Alaska Board of Fisheries had adopted for the Kasilof River last winter. In the same ruling, he also stated that the "Plaintiffs have raised serious and substantial questions as to the validity of the (optimal escapement goal)." The suit, brought by a pair of local commercial fishing advocacy groups, contended that the fish board had abused the public process by not explaining the biological reasoning behind its new upper-end spawning escapement numbers, which they asked be returned to 250,000 sockeye salmon from the 300,000 set by the board in February. The suit further accused the board of usurping some of Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue's authority to issue emergency orders. Jonathan Bauer, the attorney representing the Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association and the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association, told the Peninsula Clarion the fishermen simply want the regulations rescinded so the public process can be fulfilled. For its part, the state filed a response denying that the board process wasn't open to the public, and defending the Board of Fish's discretion to make any regulations it deems necessary for "the conservation, development and utilization of the fisheries." Judge Brown ruled that allowing the escapement goal to stand would not subject plaintiffs to "irreparable harm." Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association Vice President Jeff Beaudoin said the fishermen would regroup and determine their next move. "This is only the first round," he said.
FISH FARM TECHNOLOGY COMES to Chignik this week as the cooperative Chignik Seafood Producers Alliance continues to challenge the status quo in Alaska's salmon industry. In an experimental move to improve the quality of their sockeye salmon, the cooperative deployed a new live-fish pump and pin-bone-removing processing machines. The plan is for Homer-based Shady Lady to tender for the cooperative fleet with the use of a new Silkstream fish pump manufactured by Transvac Systems. Shady Lady owner Dan Veerhusen, who set out for Chignik Tuesday night, said the pump is the state's first truly live fish pump for salmon. The Shady Lady will pump Chignik sockeye salmon from the seine boats' nets into its 1,000-cubic-foot holding tank. Then the 58-footer will head back into the bay, where it will pump the live fish into holding pens. There they will stay swimming until the co-op's processing machines can fillet, de-bone and vacuum pack the still-fresh fish for flash freezing. The process takes around half an hour from live fish to frozen fillet.
ALASKA'S FIRST SALMON FISHING CO-OP appears thus far to be living up to its mission to improve efficiency and safety, reduce costs and deliver a higher quality product. Chignik Seafood Producers Alliance Co-op President Axel Kopun said the co-op's fleet of 19 harvesting seiners and eight tenders had produced 732,000 pounds of sockeye salmon through last weekend, or around 20,000 pounds per day since the fishery opened June 12, despite relatively slow fishing. With only a few scheduled days off during that time, Kopun marveled that the combined fuel bill for the group was just $15,000. The Chignik Seafood Producers Alliance became a reality in January when the Alaska Board of Fisheries voted to allow all or a portion of Chignik's 100 boats to adopt a cooperative fishery. With a majority vote needed to ratify the move, 77 skippers signed on. In an effort to reduce conflict, Fish and Game divided the district's fishing periods between the cooperative and competitive fishermen, though some vessels had still been involved in conflict. The department allocated just shy of 70 percent of Chignik's sockeye catch to the co-op, which recently weathered a lawsuit seeking to overturn those regulations that established the group. The other 12 boats in the fishery get the remaining 30 percent. Now the co-op members designate who among them fishes as well as how and, to the extent they can, when. Kopun reported that Norquest Seafoods has been offering the co-op 68 cents a pound up front with small quality- and market-driven incentives built in. Co-op member Ray Wadsworth, who installed the pin-bone removers on his boats, is apparently paying the co-op $1 a pound for the penned fish. Wadsworth has already presold a portion of that catch, Veerhusen said.