Pot cod fleet gets bigger area to fish

The Alaska Board of Fisheries wrapped up its meetings for Lower Cook Inlet issues on Saturday, with one small but substantial change for the pot cod fleet.

A proposal brought forward by Homer fisherman Alray Carroll reduced the areas closed to the fleet that are more sheltered in winter months, aiding the small boat fleet.

Area management biologist Jan Rumble said there were seven proposals related to groundfish, four of them proposed by Alaska Deapartment of Fish and Game staff, and most largely housekeeping, clarifying language and logbook requirements.

Three were submitted by the public, including the one by Carroll, which passed with some amendments, another allowing longlining of sablefish pots, which also passed. The third sought to increase trip limits for the increasingly popular rockfish fishery, which was withdrawn.

Pot cod stakeholders worked with fish board members to define the most effective boundaries for new areas that protect Tanner crab but also allow for more areas where small boats could more safely fish in winter.

What Rumble called a “pretty large area” closed around 1991. At the time, that area was thought to have abundant Tanner crab.

“Putting the map of our trawl survey together, defining the areas where different levels of crab were in the years since then, we felt a little more confident about liberalizing this closure area,” she said.

The department plans to have observers aboard some vessels to monitor bycatch during the fishery.

“That’s our commitment to making sure we feel comfortable with what we’ve done together,” Rumble said.

Although the board of fish proposals will not be written into regulation until June, the expanded area goes into effect immediately by emergency order.

Another proposal was to require a six hour “prior notice of landing” for rockfish, which allows biologists to monitor the offload and get information about the fish.

Part of the problem is that much of the area fished is out of cell phone and even VHF radio range, so fishermen would have to wait until they were within communication range to schedule a delivery, or else have a satellite phone aboard.

“There was some talk in committee about how it’s hard for some of the fleet to do this because of satellite phone costs, and just time of getting back,” Rumble said.

She added that there is little known about rockfish, so it is important to get otoliths and measurements, and be able to differentiate species within a load.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.