Pot cod season not as good as in past years

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Homer area management biologist Jan Rumble confirmed last week what fishermen have been saying all season: It has been a lousy pot cod season.

“It’s going slower than it has in the past,” Rumble said.

She reported that as of the end of last week, the fleet of boats 58 feet long and under have caught just 500,000 pounds of a 2.7 million pound quota.

Fishermen working the mouth of Kachemak Bay have reported catches of 5, 10 or 15 cod per pot at a time when they should be getting 20-30.

Rumble noted that the quota for boats more than 58 feet long was closing more than a week later than last season. There were three boats fishing a one million pound quota.

Vessels more than 58 feet do not have a direct allocation for state waters. They are allowed to catch up to 25 percent of the pot boat quota, presuming they do it before the season closes.

Last season the fishery closed in federal waters on Feb. 11, signaling the beginning of the state-waters fishery. The big boats had caught their portion of the quota by March 2.

Last season the federal fishery closed on Feb. 10, and this year it closed March 11.

Last season the smaller boat quota was filled on March 29.

Weather has hampered catches, with a storm late last week curtailing fishing for at least five days.

“I’m trying to figure that into the whole mix, especially with the small boats,” Rumble said. “They aren’t going to be able to get out and fish as effectively in (that) kind of weather.”

Big tides, which pull the buoys under at their peak, also have been cycling through for the past week. Boats can only fish during relatively slack tide times, which also has slowed production.

Fishing generally picks up as March progresses and the cod move into shallower water to spawn.

Rumble is new to Homer, replacing previous area management biologist for groundfish and shellfish Charlie Trowbridge in the Homer office. Trowbridge held the job for 15 years, and retired in October 2012.

Rumble’s experience comes from several years in Southeast, where she worked in the regional office since 1995. She worked on king, Dungeness and tanner crab, and also was working with the research end of dive fisheries such as sea cucumber and urchin.

She was the dive project leader for ADF&G in the dive fisheries in Southeast.

She also worked on salmon projects in Southeast, including the sockeye scale pattern analysis and as a port sampler.

“I’ve done a few things,” Rumble commented.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will meet in Anchorage beginning March 19 to discuss state-wide finfish issues, with one of the first orders of business being taking up the proposal generated by the Upper Cook Inlet task force.

The goal of the task force was to generate ideas for providing some fishing opportunity for both sport, guided sport and commercial fishermen in times of low king salmon abundance. It was formed after the East Side setnet fishery was closed for nearly the entire sockeye season last year and in-river sport fishing was sharply curtailed and then finally closed completely when the king salmon run failed to materialize in a timely manner.

The king salmon escapement eventually reached at least 22,000, well within the range of 15,000-30,000 considered adequate to maintain the run, but the bulk of those fish came in later in August, which has been happening more frequently in recent years.

Earlier this year area management biologist Pat Shields commented that the 2012 run would probably go on record as the latest Kenai River king salmon run ever recorded.

Proposal 249 attempts to help adjust for the possibility of a late run, although the task force was sharply divided, voting 5-4 on some provisions.

The proposal states that if by July 21 the king salmon run is projected to fall below the 15,000 sustainable escapement goal, the department would:

• Make the sustainable escapement goal an optimal escapement goal of 13,000 to 30,000 to allow some latitude for the department to assess uncertainties in run timing variability.

• Restrict the in-river fishery to no bait.

• Change the East Side setnet fishery to be managed by emergency order authority to harvest sockeye salmon. Friday 36-hour no-fishing window would remain in place.

According to the final vote the group suggested pairing no bait in the sport fishery with halving all available hours for the East Side setnetters, depending on which tier of the sockeye salmon management plan they were operating under or:

• Pairing restrictions in the commercial and sport fisheries when the in-river users were restricted to catch and release.

• Pairing catch and release in the in-river fishery with either a 12- or 18-hour cap on the East Side setnet fishing hours.

The restrictions would be lifted if ADF&G predicted reaching the 15,000 sustainable escapement goal by Aug. 1, and if the run is expected to exceed the sustainable escapement goal before Aug. 1, all restrictions would end.

However, if the department projects that the optimal escapement goal of 13,000 will not be met, all fisheries will close.

On Aug. 1, the in-river fishery would close by regulation and the commercial fishery would return to the regular management plan.

Any changes made to the management plan would expire after the 2013 season to allow for new ideas at the regular Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meetings in 2014, something all task force members agreed on.

The Board of Fisheries statewide finfish and supplemental issues meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. March 19 at the Anchorage Hilton hotel.

A full list of proposals, Upper Cook Inlet task force materials, public comments and meeting agenda can be found at the Board of Fisheries website, www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.main.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.