The boats fishing for Pacific cod with pots in the central Gulf of Alaska federal season finally wrapped up their 17.9 million pound quota Monday, a few days later than last year, but the trawl fleet is still fishing with only 30 percent of their 9,600-ton quota caught.
Obren Davis, area management biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said a combination of factors led to a slower pot season.
“Effort was down, catchability was definitely down,” he said. “They just seemed not to be getting the catch rates that they did, for example, last year.”
He said things started good and then slowed down, whereas last year fishing started slower and accelerated toward the end, which is more common as fish move inshore in preparation for spawning.
The boats now move into state waters within three miles of shore, where the quota is 5.1 million pounds with 85 percent, or 4.31 million pounds, allocated to pot gear and 15 percent to jig gear.
Vessels more than 58 feet are limited to no more than 25 percent of the quota, or 1.27 million pounds.
There is a 60 pot limit, and pot tags are required.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Jan Rumble reminds fishermen that bycatch limits are established by emergency order in the beginning of the year. Retention of big skate was closed in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound on Feb. 11 to mirror a federal waters closure.
Pot fisherman also need to keep an eye on the octopus guideline harvest level which is 35,000 pounds and closed on April 23, 2014. The next GHL kicks in Jan. 1, 2016.
The parallel longline fishery is still open in state waters. Last year this fishery closed March 15.
As expected, the first committee hearing to advance Dr. Roland Maw to confirmation by the full Legislature to the Alaska Board of Fisheries was lively and contentious.
The Senate Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Cathy Giessel, met Monday to begin vetting Maw and take public testimony.
Maw said he came to Alaska as a young man and worked his way up from unloading fish and working the slime line to owning boats, IFQs and permits.
“I’ve lived the Alaska dream,” he said. “I’m not here to destroy that for anybody.”
Maw said the state has done several things right, including managing to escapement goals, passing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, hiring local area management biologists with boots on the ground, balancing management plans that put fish first but also take social needs into account, and establishing private, nonprofit hatcheries.
“I have absolutely no intention of upsetting those five items,” he said.
He pointed out that the state has a seafood industry that tops around $6 billion annually between commercial fisheries and the recreational sector.
“For us as a society, it’s important that all segments of that industry, sport and commercial, be strong and healthy.”
Maw was questioned extensively about whether he would be able to set aside his passions and affiliations with groups advocating for commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet, mostly as executive director of United Cook Inlet Drift Association.
Maw explained that he was an employee; at no time was he a board member or an officer of the corporation. While he did participate in discussions about the issues, he did not have a vote.
He also said he did not always agree with decisions made by the UCIDA board of directors.
When he was hired by UCIDA, he said his only caveat was that he was not going to do anything that was not biologically sound.
“I think I pretty well held true to that,” he said. “So even if people had contrary positions, my personal comments were always founded in science.”
Most of the questions from committee members centered around litigation that UCIDA is currently involved in with NMFS, but which has repeatedly been mistakenly characterized as a lawsuit against the state of Alaska.
Sen. Bill Stoltze of Wasilla, asked “What is your position on the UCIDA litigation both past and present on the dipnet fisheries, and on bringing in federal management?”
Maw said there is nothing in the current suit that mentions personal use, dipnet, sport or guided issues, and later said he did not support letting non-residents participate in the fishery.
As for bringing in federal management, Maw said from his perspective, no day-to-day federal management of Cook Inlet salmon is either asked for or anticipated.
What UCIDA is asking for is that the state return to management rules set out by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a federal law. Other salmon fisheries in Alaska that are executed at least partly in federal waters, as half of the Cook Inlet fishery is, are managed under MSA, and Cook Inlet has seen a substantial decline in returns since the federal government stepped out of the equation.
Public testimony was weighted heavily in favor of Maw, with UCIDA board member and fisherman Ian Pitzman summing up the essence of the testimony.
“Gov. Walker got rid of a lawyer on the Board of Fish and replaced him with a fisheries scientist. That seems like a step in the right direction to me,” Pitzman said.
Maw is replacing former board chair Karl Johnstone, a lawyer and former judge, who came with his own issues.
A public records request showed that Johnstone was copying internal Board of Fisheries emails to long-time commercial fisheries foe Bob Penney. While that may not cross legal boundaries, it does show a perceived bias against the commercial industry and access to the board not granted to anyone else.
Public testimony was cut short with 11 people who had signed up but the committee ran out of time. The committee will reconvene Friday at 3:30 p.m. and will begin with public testimony. Anyone wishing to testify can come to a Legislative Information Office, which in Homer is located at 270 W. Pioneer Ave., the former Job Center building.
Full audio and video of the first hearing can be found at http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=SRES%202015-02-16%2015:30:00#.
Cristy Fry can be reached at email@example.com.