Questions raised about experimental fishery

The experimental fishery to determine the feasibility of a seine fishery for pollock in state waters has finished up with mixed results.

The Gulf of Alaska pollock workgroup held its final meeting last month to discuss adding a limited entry state pollock fishery to Alaska waters for both trawl and non-trawl vessels and go over the results of the experimental fishery.

The fishery was formed as a result of a proposal from Kodiak fisherman Matt Hegge who expressed concern about plans for rationalizing pollock in federal waters, and wanted to see about carving out a portion of the quota for state waters, much like the cod fishery.

A commissioner’s permit was granted to seine for pollock in Kodiak, but no one signed up. Fishermen in Homer expressed an interest, and the permit was moved to Cook Inlet.

Hegge and other fishermen have also asked that the state try to provide some additional entry-level fishing opportunity in state waters in addition to the current open access state waters fisheries, because rationalization typically makes it more difficult for new participants to enter the federal fishery.

The fishery may have created more questions than it answered, according to Jan Rumble, area management biologist for the Alaska Deparment of Fish and Game.

“There are still questions looming out there about ‘are we going to have a (Board of Fisheries) meeting dedicated to pollock…?’” she said. “State funding is in a really bad place, so I’d be surprised if they did.”

She said there could be proposals brought forward as agenda change requests if fishermen felt there was an eminent need to address things.

Rumble noted that the seine fishery in Cook Inlet only caught about 32,000 pounds,  so there is limited information about how effective that gear type would be.

Homer fisherman Beaver Nelson, whose son Rob ran one of the two boats that participated in the fishery, was optimistic about the possibilities.

“I think it has definite promise,” he said.

However, in order to have any kind of market it is necessary to have reliable and substantial quantities of fish, he said.

“You can’t just bring in dibs and dabs.”

Nelson said that in the fall, the fish are closer to the surface and easier to catch, but they need deeper nets to fish during the winter.

They found that the pollock are down around 200 feet from about December through February, and the net they used reached around 160 feet.

They are trying to find a deeper herring seine from British Columbia that would reach down to the volume of fish and try again next fall. 

“I think Rob could have loaded his boat in a couple of sets with deeper gear,” Nelson said.

He said the other thing they learned was that there was very limited bycatch of king salmon, and those that they did catch were quite small and were able to be turned loose alive.

Nelson said he agreed with the concept behind the fishery, which is getting access to the resource before rationalization.

“What we’re really primed for is (Hegge’s proposal), that’s what this thing is really all about, and that’s getting state-water control of our fisheries. A big chunk of that (federal) pollock quota is caught in state waters, and if rationalization goes through like the feds are trying to do, the State of Alaska is going to lose out totally on it.”

Meeting documents from the pollock workgroup can be found

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Boats fishing Pacific cod with jig gear in federal waters, what’s known as the parallel season, met their quota this week, with the season closing Monday. 

Those boats have now moved into state waters with a quota of 760,429 pounds. 

The state-waters jig season will remain open until the jig allocation is achieved or the opening of the parallel “B” season in federal waters on June 10. 

This is noteworthy because in 2014, the parallel jig fishery never closed and therefore the state-waters jig fishery never opened and that part of the guideline harvest level was not taken.

The Pacific cod state-waters season opened Feb. 17 with a total guideline harvest level of 5.1 million pounds. Of that, 85 percent, or 4.21 million pounds, is allocated to pot boats and the rest to jig. 

Boats over 58 feet are limited to no more that 25 percent of the pot quota.

There are 11 pot boats registered for state waters, with only one of those over 58 feet, and one jig boat. 

The pot boats had harvested around 700,000 pounds by March 2.

Compared to last season, the pot quota went up by about 700,000 pounds total. 

Last season, the pot fishery opened Feb. 14 and the large vessel season closed March 5. 

The quota for vessels smaller than 58 feet with pots was not reached last season. 

The parallel longline fishery is still open in state waters, last year this fishery closed March 15.

ADFG staff are monitoring the fishery with fish tickets and sampling the catch that comes into Homer and Seward.

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While Homer enjoys one of the mildest, calmest winters on record, fishing on the East Coast is hampered by iced-in harbors, rough weather and record snowfalls.

The New York Times reports that for the first time in more than a decade, the Coast Guard in February issued “severe ice” bulletins for southeastern New England. 

“The severe frigid weather we have experienced for the past two weeks or so is expected to continue for at least another five days,” read one bulletin, issued last week. 

The Army Corps of Engineers has banned vessels shorter than 65 feet from Cape Cod Canal. The Coast Guard has no mandatory restrictions in place, but warns that buoys and other navigational aids have been submerged or blown off their stations and rendered useless. 

As a result, volume at the New Bedford fish auction is down 45 percent compared to last year due to the ice and storms.

Cristy Fry can be reached at