Pacific cod fishery slow going this season

Bad weather and a lack of markets has led to a basic shutdown of the Pacific cod season for state-waters pot boats before it really got started, at least for Homer boats.

“We’re not even close (to catching the quota),” said Jan Rumble, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The longline fishery is still going on in federal waters, known as the parallel fishery, in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound. That means that boats can fish in state waters, within 3 miles, and also in federal waters, outside of 3 miles. 

Because most of the boats working that fishery are Russians, many of whom do not fish on Russian holidays, the longline fishery is seeing some slow going.

“We’re not expecting to catch (the longline quota) either. Things have slowed to a crawl,” Rumble said.

The total guideline harvest level, or GHL, for pot boats in state waters is 4.31 million pounds, and it is doubtful half of that will be caught as boats are beaching their gear, citing lack of markets. Rumble said the latest available numbers showed 1.7 million pounds caught.

At least one buyer, Jeff Berger for Copper River Seafoods, said there had been so much cod delivered between the federal and state-waters seasons that they had to start putting cod in the freezer, which lowered the price.

“It got to the point where we didn’t want to invest any more,” Berger said. “We stopped buying just so we could get caught up.”

Berger said Copper River Seafoods had half a million pounds of fillets in the freezer that had to be cut up into smaller portions before salmon season starts, and capacity was an issue.

On top of that halibut and black cod deliveries are starting to pick up, which is a higher end, higher priority market.

Berger said the lower price had some bearing on boats pulling their pots out of the water. His organization started the season at 38 cents per pound, lowered it to 35 cents per pound, and ended up paying 30 cents per pound for the freezer product.

He added that fresh sales have fallen off as other kinds of fresh fish becomes available.

Boats in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands district were paid 27 cents per pound all season, but that is strictly a freezer market, and the product has more travel and processing costs.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

 

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