Homer Alaska - Seawatch

Story last updated at 11:18 AM on Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tanner crab fisheries open Jan. 15

A small handful of Homer boat crews have been braving wet and windy weather preparing gear and boats to head to Kodiak, Chignik and beyond for the 2012 bairdi tanner crab season that begins Jan. 15.

The areas are seeing mixed Guideline Harverst Levels this season.

The Kodiak district will have a GHL of 950,000 pounds, down from 1.49 million last season, and a 20-pot-per-boat limit.

The Chignik district GHL will be 700,000 pounds, up from 600,000 pounds last season, and a 30-pot limit.

The Alaska Peninsula districts, eastern and western, have a combined GHL of 1.62 million pounds, down from 2.3 million pounds, and a 30-pot limit. The pot limit last season for this district was 75 pots per boat.

Boats can run gear only from 8 a.m.-5:59 p.m. The season opening for any area can be delayed if winds are forecast at 35 knots or above.

All three areas have a long history of tanner crab fisheries, beginning in 1967 and 1968, and peaking in the late 1970's. Kodiak's best harvest was 33 million pounds, followed by Chignik with 11 million pounds, and the Alaska Peninsula with a high of 9 million pounds.

None of the areas survived the crab crash of the late 1980s and early 1990s that shut down tanner and king crab fisheries all over the Gulf of Alaska.

Boats that are headed for the Chignik district can take advantage of the new harbor there that recently opened for business.

The $3.4 million project included installation of 40 slips, a harbormaster building, and full water and electrical support. The construction finished ahead of budget and schedule, allowing the Chignik fleet to begin using the harbor to prepare for the winter longlining and crab season.

"Everyone involved in this project is thrilled that our fishermen have a fully functional harbor," said borough Mayor Glen R. Alsworth Sr.

"The idea of a boat harbor in Chignik dates all the way back to 1955 when Chignik's residents wrote to Delegate Bob Bartlett to ask for assistance. To be part of the group that has made it a reality is gratifying."

"The boat harbor will be a tremendous boost to the Chignik fishery," added Chignik Mayor Richard Sharpe. "Now the fleet will be able to quickly and safely wait out storms and have a viable, year-round storage location for their boats."

Previously, fishermen had to store their boats in Kodiak or Sand Point, he noted.

The boat harbor completion follows the best salmon season in 40 years and the prospect of expanded winter fishery allocations for Chignik fishermen.

Groundfish fishermen are looking at a good season ahead with stocks and quotas up across the board.

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council set catch limits for pollock, Pacific cod and sablefish, all of which are on the upswing.

The pollock quota for the central Gulf of Alaska, caught entirely by trawl, is up 23 percent, from 37,365 metric tons in 2011 to 45,808 metric tons in 2012.

Western Gulf of Alaska pollock is up 30 percent, from 20,235 to 26,348 metric tons.

Pacific cod is up about 1 percent gulf-wide, central and western, with a quota of 65,700 metric tons, of which 25 percent is set aside for state-water fisheries.

The quota for the central area is up 5.8 percent.

The federal-waters cod quota is divided up among user groups for the first time this year with the advent of sector splits. In the central GOA, trawlers, including trawler catcher/processors, get 45.8 percent of the catch, pot boats get 27.8 percent, and longliners 26.4 percent. A 1-percent jig quota comes off the top before those splits are made.

Sablefish was the big surprise, seeing an almost 15 percent GOA-wide increase in a fishery that had been expecting a drop in quota. The central GOA will see a 22 percent jump. The total quota for central and western GOA is 12,900 metric tons.

Sablefish, or black cod, is an IFQ fishery caught by longline.

The question hanging over the heads of trawlers is whether they will be able to catch their increased bounty without reaching their by-catch limit on king salmon, which this year for the first time is set at a hard cap of 25,000 fish.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to test nearly 8,000 wild and farmed salmon over the next two years to look for three potentially deadly fish diseases in British Columbia.

The project is an intensive investigation aimed at detecting any signs on the West Coast of infectious salmon anemia, infectious pancreatic necrosis or infectious hematopoietic necrosis.

"All three diseases are highly contagious, can cause mortality in wild and aquaculture salmon," states a ministerial briefing note prepared by CFIA staff. "Surveillance objectives are to determine the absence/presence of three diseases of trade significance ... (and) to support international trade negotiations by making (a) disease-freedom declaration that will stand international scrutiny," states the note, which was filed as evidence recently at the Cohen Commission of inquiry.

The Cohen Commission was tasked with looking for reasons for the decline of the Frasier River salmon runs, and is wrapping up after 18 months of inquiry.

The draft plan states that 7,700 salmon will be collected for sampling over two years, and that nearly 20,000 tests will be undertaken on the fish.

Salmon will be captured on spawning grounds, taken from federal fish hatcheries, caught at sea and collected at fish farms and from commercial fishing boats and processing plants.

The surveillance strategy, which also involves the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and provincial authorities, was developed this year following reports that three laboratories had obtained positive hits for the ISA virus in samples of B.C. salmon. However, none of those positive tests could be repeated in follow-up studies, leaving officials unsure if the virus had been discovered or not.

Subsequent revelations include a researcher claiming to have found evidence of a latent form of ISA in salmon collected from B.C to the Bering Sea 10 years ago and being denied a request to publish her findings, and the head of molecular genetics for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Nanaimo, Kristi Miller, telling the Cohen Commission that frozen samples dating back to 1986 have been tested, and show ISA has been in B.C. waters for at least 25 years.

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