Homer Alaska - Seawatch

Story last updated at 5:56 PM on Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More changes in works for Pacific cod regulations

The Alaska Board of Fisheries made few major changes to the state-waters (within three miles of shore) Pacific cod regulations at its recent meetings, but big changes are coming to the fishery anyway as the much larger federal-waters fishery implements sector splits, which divides the quota up among gear types.

The board met Oct. 3-10 and took up proposals for Pacific cod for Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Chignik and the South Alaska Peninsula, writing new management plans for the cod fisheries in each area to coordinate with the changes in the federal fisheries.

Previous federal management of the cod fishery did not differentiate between trawl, pot, hook-and-line and jig fishermen, although the trawl boats were kept at the dock until Jan. 20 to give the smaller, fixed gear boats first crack at the quota. That meant that when the federal fishery closed, all other gear types allowed in state waters would open.

Beginning in 2012, in the central Gulf of Alaska, which includes Cook Inlet, hook-and-line catcher-processors and catcher vessels will have a combined 26.4 percent of the federal Total Allowable Catch, or TAC. Pot catcher-processors and catcher vessels have 27.8 percent, trawl catcher-processors have 4.2 percent, and trawl catcher vessels have the lion's share at 41.6 percent of the TAC.

Most changes made to the state-waters fishery in Cook Inlet by the board had to do with opening dates for the various gear types, according to Elisa Russ with the Homer office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"We used to manage our state-water fishery based on the one closure of the entire TAC," Russ said.

Sector splits made changes to that scenario possible, but not mandatory. The state had the option of waiting until all the federal fisheries were closed before opening any in state waters.

"That was a decision to be made by the (BOF), and they made the decision to have staggered openings for the state-waters fishery," Russ said. "Our fisheries will open to different gear types at different times in response to the gear sector allocations."

Russ said that with input from various stakeholders, the board decided in some areas to open state waters on a date-certain basis, rather than waiting for the federal fishery to close, primarily with the jig fishery.

For example, in Kodiak, the state-waters jig fishery opens 48 hours after the federal jig season closes, or March 15, whichever comes first. Russ said that was because of a concern that the extra pounds allocated to the federal jig fishery may cause the state-waters TAC to never get caught.

In an effort to increase participation in the federal jig fishery, the jig portion of the quota comes off the top before the other gear types are figured in. The jig portion is 1 percent of the TAC for the central Gulf Of Alaska, and 1.5 percent for the western GOA initially, with a stair-step provision to allocate another 1 percent in any given year if jiggers reach 90 percent of their TAC during the federal season, capped at 6 percent. There is a provision to step it back down by 1 percent if 90 percent is not caught for two consecutive years, but it cannot go below the initial allocation.

In Cook Inlet, managers decided to leave the state-waters fishery closed until the federal season closed, meaning that fishermen may be able to fish in both state and federal water for most of the year.

The federal season is divided into "A" and "B" seasons, with a portion of each TAC allocated to each. The federal "A" season for jig fish closes June 10, if the quota is not caught before then. Any federal quota left over at that point would roll over into the "B" season, which opens September 1.

If the jig boats catch their federal quota before June 10, the state-waters fishery opens 24 hours later. If they do not, then the state-waters fishery opens June 11.

The federal TAC fell by 9 percent in the central GOA for 2012, and is set at 36,362 metric tons. The state-waters TAC is 3.75 percent of that, which comes out to about 3 million pounds in 2012.

However, the BOF made an allocative change that altered the split between pot and jig boats in Cook Inlet from 25 percent for jig and 75 percent for pots to 15 percent for jig and 85 percent for pots. The jig boats have never caught their share, and the uncaught portion is lost production, according to Glen Carroll, a local boat owner who testified at the committee meetings prior to the decision-making portion of the BOF meetings.

"My testimony was that I'm not trying... to cut them out, but we don't want to have fish come January 1 that go uncaptured, we can't catch them," Carroll said.

However, a stair-step provision was added that allows that percentage to go up by five points the following year if 90 percent of the jig quota is caught.

That means that pot boats will have about 2.55 million pounds, and the jig boats will have 450,000 pounds in state waters. However, whatever federal jig quota is left after the Kodiak fleet moves into state waters on March 15 will be available to the Cook Inlet fleet.

Russ said that there is flexibility written into the state plans that would allow them to close the state-waters jig fishery if that quota is not caught by the September 1 opening of the federal "B" season, allowing boats back into federal waters. She said that it will take some time to work things out so there is no loss of opportunity.

"We don't know what's going to happen the first year," Russ said. "They've anticipated another (BOF) meeting just like this special P-cod one this year to evaluate how things went, to see if the constituents want any changes."