Prince William Sound is a busy place these days with three ongoing fisheries that are open entry, not requiring IFQ ownership or a limited entry permit.
Shrimp fishing with pots entered its third four-day period this week, with the first two periods producing about 11,500 pounds of spot shrimp out of a 66,300 pound quota.
In what seems to be a yearly occurrence, many, many more boats registered for the fishery than are participating in it, which causes headaches for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, according to area management biologist Jan Rumble.
This year, 89 boats registered, but only 21 are actually fishing, which is “not ideal,” Rumble said.
“The whole idea behind getting people to register for the fishery is to anticipate effort,” she said.
In 2011, 155 boats registered but only 33 actually fished.
The pot limit per boat for this week’s period, which began Monday and closes today, was doubled from 30 to 40 pots per boat, due to the small amount of effort. The boats are restricted to hauling pots between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
There also is a trawl fishery for side stripe shrimp ongoing, with a quota of 112,950 pounds, but there is only one vessel participating, so landing information is confidential.
The other fishing opportunity taking place in Prince William Sound is the state’s only non-IFQ sablefish fishery.
While the fishery is open access, there is a per-boat poundage limit based on size and how many boats register for the fishery, and an extended period in which to catch that poundage.
This season there are 53 vessels registered with three different poundage allocations.
There are 4 A- and B-class permits, for vessels over 60 feet in length, which are allowed 7,888 round pounds each, 38 C-class permits, vessels 35 to 60 feet in length, with 4,522 pounds each, and 11 D-class permits, vessels less than 35 feet, with 3,508 pounds each.
The total quota is 242,000 pounds, and the season runs from April 15 to Aug. 31.
The nets are not even all hung yet and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is announcing the first closures and restrictions for the Northern District setnet salmon fishery in Upper Cook Inlet.
The Peninsula Clarion reports that the setnet fishery, which has had an average of 53 permit holders
during the last 10 years, is comprised of fishermen on both the East and West sides of the Cook Inlet who will see their first fishing period closed in response to king salmon conservation concerns.
ADF&G area management biologist Pat Shields said six systems in the Northern District of the Upper Cook Inlet were considered stocks of concern and despite similar restrictions to the commercial king fishery in 2012 — including closures in the early commercial sockeye salmon fishery — a number of systems failed to meet king salmon goals.
Although harvest of early run king salmon in the commercial fishery has been low when compared to the rest of Cook Inlet — setnetters caught an average of 1,540 fish during the last four fishing seasons according to Fish and Game data — Shields said the fishery is still valuable.
“It’s the first king salmon fishery, our first commercial salmon fishery and the price that they get per pound for those king salmon is anywhere from two times to four times what they’ll get later on,” Shields said. “They can get $5 to $7 a pound … it’s not a large number of people that participate but it’s an early season, important fishery for those folks and it’s unfortunate that we have to restrict, but it’s happening to everybody. It’s happening to the sport fishery also.”
The emergency order also closed a section of the Northern District known as the General Subdistrict, located from a point about three miles south of Tyonek up to the Susitna River.
Shields said the area was closed per the Northern District King Salmon Management Plan which specifies that if the Chuitna River is closed to sportfishing, the commercial king salmon fishery must close as well.
Setnet fishermen in the rest of the Northern District who participate in the fishery use one net and will be restricted from their normal 12-hour fishing periods — each Monday in June — to six-hour periods.
Shields said commercial fishermen were restricted similarly in 2012 during the early king salmon run.
Most commercial setnet fishermen in the Upper Cook Inlet are scheduled to begin fishing June 27, except for those in the Kenai and East Forelands section who are scheduled to begin fishing July 8, however managers in both the commercial and sportfishing divisions of Fish and Game have said they will manage conservatively during the upcoming fishing season to protect king salmon.
ADF&G biologists in Dillingham are already flying over Togiak Bay and surrounding areas scouting for herring, several days earlier than anticipated.
A pilot flying over the area last week told ADF&G that the area was ice-free, and there was marine wildlife activity that looked promising for the herring to start arriving any time.
ADF&G had been anticipating the season starting between May 7 and May 14, but recent weather changes and the pilot report made it look like things might happen earlier, so they took to the skies themselves on April 28 to view the area.
However, what they saw tended to confirm their sense that it was still fairly early, according to assistant area management biologist Matt Jones.
Jones said that on the early flights, if the fish are going to be showing up soon, they usually see lots of seabirds and sealions.
“We didn’t see any of that,” he said. “We saw lots of gray whales, and any time we see gray whales it’s usually well ahead of the herring showing up.”
In addition, he said that the water temperature is still fairly cold, one degree Celsius, with 3 degrees being “the magic number.”
The weather was clear and viewing conditions excellent during the flight.
They anticipated flying again May 1. Results of that flight can be heard on the recorded information line at (907) 842-5226.
Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.