The Alaska Legislature’s failure to extend the limited entry program for weathervane scallop fishing, which expired Dec. 30, 2013, has created an open-access opportunity in state waters for the succulent mollusks.
Originally developed during the 2002 legislative session and extended again in 2008, the limited entry program was the only one in the state that was vessel-based, rather than an individual owning the permit.
The reasoning for that was because if the permits had gone to individual captains that had participated in the fishery, there could potentially have been between 27 and 43 permits handed out, depending upon window years used to establish eligibility, far more than the fishery could sustain.
Making it vessel-based created nine permits, a much more manageable number, but a majority of them are now consolidated in the hands of a small group of Washington-based partners, and only five state and federal permits have been active, in use on two vessels.
That group is acting as a cooperative now, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Jan Rumble.
“Basically they brought their permits together and are fishing on a couple of boats.”
She said that consolidation might have been the reasoning behind the lack of legislative action.
Because the most productive scallop beds straddle the state-federal demarcation, both permits are generally necessary, but not required, and federal waters remains limited entry.
Rumble said that, for example, 10 percent of the scallop bed at Kayak Island is in state waters, the rest in federal waters.
The Cook Inlet and Kamishak Bay scallop beds are all in federal waters, but Yakutat and Shelikof Straight have more area in state waters.
It is not yet known how many vessels might sign up for the open-access fishery; participants have until April 1 to register.
It should be interesting, Rumble said. “It takes a lot of investment, and different kinds of gear, so we don’t know what to expect,” she said.
One concern is that less experienced fishermen might not know exactly where to go and might do a lot of prospecting with the 12-foot-by-12-foot hard-on-bottom steel dredges used in the fishery, and damage non-scallop areas.
“I’m not saying that’s true,” Rumble said, “but I think people are worried about that.”
Cristy Fry has fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.