The National Marine Fisheries Service added insult to injury to the halibut fleet, which is potentially facing another round of drastic cuts to the quotas, by increasing the cost recovery fee that covers fisheries enforcement as well as other expenses related to fishery management.
NMFS announced that it raised the fee from 1.6 percent of the ex-vessel value of the catch to 2.1 percent, a 25 percent increase.
The increase is a result of under-collection from the previous year, and reflects the lower quota and lower prices of the 2012 season.
Prices started out fairly strong this spring, in the $6.50-per-pound range in Homer, although slightly lower than where they ended up in 2011. However, as the season progressed, it became apparent that those prices were not sustainable this time around, and according to NMFS data, never went above $6.05 in Kodiak.
Prices ended the season with a comparative whimper, around $5.40 in Kodiak and $5.25 in Homer. A notable exception was one boat that waited until the end of the season to catch the bulk of their quota, hoping for the usual bump that comes with the season ending and supplies of fresh fish getting scarce, having trouble finding a market in Homer and reportedly settling for $3-$3.50 per pound.
The average halibut price in 2011 statewide was $6.29 per pound, and $6.33 in Area 3A, which includes Homer and Kodiak. Kodiak prices reportedly stayed at $6.77 for four months last year.
In addition to the increase in NMFS cost recovery fees, which could go up again next year with the smaller anticipated quota, halibut fishermen also will be subjected to a 1.25 percent fee to help cover the cost of the new observer program, which will begin being collected in 2014. If the cost recovery fee stays the same, that will mean that halibut fishermen will be paying 3.35 percent of their catch to NMFS.
The NMFS cost recovery fee for the halibut fishery is capped at 3 percent of ex-vessel value.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released genetic analysis of chinook salmon harvested in the East Side Set Net fishery which shows surprising results: 25 percent of the king salmon previously attributed to the Kenai River were actually bound for the Kasilof River.
Samples were collected in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but because the ESSN fishery was closed for most of 2012, those results were not used in the analysis.
According to the report, the salmon were traced into one of five statistical areas: the Northwest Cook Inlet; Kenai Tributaries; Kenai Mainstem; Kasilof Mainstem; and the Coastal South Kenai Peninsula.
The stock compositions for 2010 and 2011 were similar. In both years, stocks not bound for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers made up less than 2.4 percent of the total.
The findings are good news for the ESSN fishery, as the estimate of the percentage of kings they harvest from the troubled Kenai run will drop.
Researchers will continue to gather samples to get a broader database and more reliable analysis.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has tentatively decided to take up Gulf of Alaska king salmon bycatch by trawlers at its April 2013 meeting.
According to the Cordova Times, the council scheduled 12 hours of its December meeting in Anchorage to discuss both that and the incidental catch of chum salmon in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries, and heard extensive testimony on both bycatch issues.
The council then opted to add the Gulf of Alaska king salmon bycatch issue to the agenda for its April meeting in Anchorage, but possibly reconsider that action during its February meeting in Portland, Ore. Meanwhile, the NPFMC, which considers this a priority issue, has directed its staff to refine the analysis included in the initial review, which was the basis of testimony and discussion in December.
Duncan Fields, a council member from Kodiak, said once the gulf bycatch issue comes before the council that final action is likely. If the council does so at its April meeting, it’s possible that the action could be implemented by Jan. 1, 2015.
Alternatives for the Gulf of Alaska chinook bycatch issue currently include status quo, a hard cap on Chinook salmon and full retention of salmon until the number of salmon has been determined and observers have been able to collect scientific data or biological samples as needed.
Theresa Peterson, a Kodiak harvester who also works for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, told the council that it is time to do something about extensive chinook bycatch by the non-pollock trawl vessels in the Gulf of Alaska, the Times reports.
“Significant and unrestricted chinook bycatch has been occurring in the Gulf of Alaska for decades,” Peterson said. “We applaud the action the council took to put a limit on Chinook salmon (bycatch) in the Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries.
“It is now time to follow suit for the non-pollock trawl fisheries in the gulf. While these fisheries on average contribute to a third of the known Chinook bycatch in the gulf, and in some years as high as 70 percent of the bycatch, they remain at present unrestricted.
“Given the disastrous state of chinook salmon runs throughout the gulf, it is clearly time for the council to move expeditiously and meet its obligation under National Standard 9 (under the Magnuson-Stevens Act) and reduce bycatch in this fishery,” she said.
The council also heard from commercial and sport anglers from the Kenai Peninsula to Southeast Alaska, and groups like the Homer Charter Association, who called for a 5,000 chinook cap on the overall incidental catch of king salmon by trawlers.
has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at