Seawatch: Cod fisheries move to state waters

Cod fisheries around the state are moving from federal waters to state waters as fishermen in Cook Inlet are reporting low catches and smaller fish but higher prices.

Federal cod fisheries throughout the central Gulf of Alaska closed at noon on Sunday, Jan. 27, giving fishermen using pot gear 24 hours to move their gear to state waters, within 3 miles of shore, in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound. Kodiak boats have 7 days, meaning their fishery opens February 3.

At least one fisherman in Cook Inlet noted that the cod were averaging less than 4 pounds each as well as around 10 fish per pot, but a price of 65 cents per pound made it marginally worthwhile for skippers and crews. Past seasons have seen prices of around 35-45 cents per pound and fish around 7 pounds each.

The cod quota plummeted by 80 percent last season, and another 5 percent this season, but that did not stop more boats from signing up for the Prince William Sound state-waters fishery, with 35 boats registering for the season, up from 32 last season.

In Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, 85 percent of the quota is allocated to boats fishing with pots, with the other 15 percent going to boats fishing with jig gear. The Kodiak quota is divided evenly between pot and jig boats.

In addition, in Kodiak, Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, boats over 58 feet are allowed to catch up to 25 percent of the pot quota.

All state-water areas are exclusive registration, meaning that vessels who fish cod in those areas may not transfer to other state-water areas when their fishery closes.

There is a 60-pot limit in all areas for cod.

Kodiak has seen a reduction in effort this year, according to assistant area management biologist Natura Richardson, who said that only 5 boats have registered so far, although she expects perhaps a couple more. She also noted that no vessels over 58 feet have registered yet.

The small number of registered vessels, half as many as registered last season, is largely due to a larger quota in the western Gulf of Alaska, Richardson said.

“A lot of boats are moving. The Dutch Harbor (Guideline Harvest Limit) is like 32 million (pounds), whereas the Kodiak GHL is one (million). We’re seeing a migration not just of the cod but also the fishermen.”

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com

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