A proposal to the Alaska Board of Fisheries from last year to look at developing a state-waters pollock fishery is getting legs with a test fishery with seines in Kachemak Bay.
Rather than issue an allocation at the time, the board decided to form a work group with the goal of providing the board with a discussion on a state-waters guideline harvest level and an explanation of whether and how a state-waters quota for pollock would protect and maintain Alaska’s marine resources and maximize the benefits of pollock for the state.
It was originally thought that Kodiak would be the base for the test fishery, and a commissioner’s permit was issued, but no one signed up to fish it.
Some Homer fishermen approached Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Jan Rumble about trying it in Kachemak Bay, so a permit was put together, rules established, and boats signed up to fish.
“So there’s been some pollock fishing the last couple of weeks,” Rumble said.
The rules for the test fishery include mandatory observer coverage, trip limits of 10,000 pounds, and detailed logbooks.
There was 220,000 pounds made available before Jan. 1, and another 220,000 pounds by Feb. 28.
Rumble said that right now boats are testing the market, and things still are a bit sketchy.
The first trip was supposed to go to a market for whole pollock in Korea, but Rumble was not sure it got there. The second load went to bait because the timing did not work out for shipping to Korea, and the last load was caught last weekend and results have not been reported to ADF&G yet.
The set from Friday night/Saturday morning was around 5,000 pounds, with the total so far at about 6,200 pounds.
Rumble expects effort and catches to increase.
“I believe that from talking to the fishermen and knowing what’s going on that this is really kind of a market test and a gear test,” to find out whether fishing at night is best, areas, and what kind of net to use.
The two boats currently participating are using herring seines, but there is no restriction on that.
“They could use a salmon seine if they wanted,” Rumble said.
The main difference would be mesh size, and the smaller mesh and twine size of herring seines might cause less marking on the fish.
There have been five total trips and 19 total sets made.
Rumble said that so far, bycatch has been minimal, with only one king salmon fatality.
“There have been some king salmon caught, but they were released unharmed, except for one,” she said. “That was one of our biggest concerns, was not getting bycatch, especially not killing any salmon, and I think we’ve been pretty good on that.”
The king salmon found around Kachemak Bay this time of year are young feeder kings that are thought to be of Canadian origin.
Once the test fishery concludes, the information will go to the BOF, who will decide whether to ask federal fishery managers for a piece of the federal pollock quota.
The Board of Fisheries took no action on a proposal from the Prince William Sound meetings last month for a pollock seine fishery in that area, waiting instead to hear from the work group on the Kachemak Bay fishery, and waiting to get more information on seining and pollock.
“I think the hope is that we’ll have more information about how effective it is, and proposals can be brought forward in the future to try to develop state-waters fisheries, and have more information about how realistic that is.”
There was concern over the original proposal about how a state-waters pollock fishery would affect the federal trawl fishery, which is going to a catch-share program.
Trawling is illegal in Kachemak Bay, and while pollock seining is not currently a legal gear type, Rumble said that proposals could be generated to make it so, if all goes well and it looks viable.
“The potential could be there to take off some of the (total allowable catch) for pollock seining” from the federal trawl TAC, similar to what happened with the cod fishery.
Rumble is pleased that the knowledge is being gathered.
“We’re hoping that people become more effective as the fishery goes on, and we’re pretty happy with the guys we’re dealing with. It’s something that we all want to know.”
Fishermen should not expect to see a crab fishery in Kachemak Bay or Cook Inlet any time soon, or perhaps even an abundance survey, according to Rumble.
“Certainly the management staff here is interested in continuing our data series with Kachemak Bay and the trawl survey,” she said.
However, state funding is tight and getting tighter, and shellfish populations have shown no sign of improvement.
“Because of the population being so depleted here, it’s going to take years to recover here, we’d have to have a pretty good recruitment, which we haven’t seen a lot of with tanner crab,” she said.
She said Kachemak Bay would take precedence over Kamishak Bay for a survey, due to the money and effort needed to get across the inlet.
Rumble thought the last time a trawl survey was done in Kamishak Bay was two years ago.
That does not mean no one cares.
“I think a lot of people have questions, including myself, about what happened with the shift from shellfish to P-cod and pollock.”
There is even less king and Dungeness crab than tanners turning up.
“With our trawl survey we catch incidentally other species, and we have no indication of king crab at all,” she said. “I think in our last trawl survey we caught one king crab.”
It could be past the point of no return.
“I think we’re so far along in wherever we’re going, it’s going to be hard to go backwards,” Rumble said.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.