Seawatch: Halibut season gets off to slow start

The 2017 halibut season got underway as scheduled on March 11 despite uncertainty from President Donald Trump’s administration that had instructed every federal agency to remove two regulations for each one put in place, as well as put a 60-day hold on any new regulations.

Those mandates caused National Marine Fisheries Service, which administers the halibut and sablefish fisheries, to warn that they were unclear on the implementation of new regulations such as allowing the sablefish fishery, also known as black cod, to use pots to implement the fishery, in an effort to prevent sperm and orca whales from stripping sablefish off groundline hooks.

One study found those whales can take as much as 65 percent of the fish off the hooks while the line is being hauled in.

Due to cold weather and icing conditions, halibut deliveries have been relatively slow in Area 3A, the central Gulf of Alaska, one of only two areas in Alaska that recorded any landings during the first nine days of the season.

Area 3A deliveries stood at 130,383 pounds delivered during that period.

Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, had seen a total of 243,259 pounds of halibut delivered during the same period.

Southeast got off to a much faster start in 2016, with nearly 260,000 pounds delivered in the first three days of the season.

Prices have once again started out strong, with a report of prices around $7.05 straight for first deliveries in Homer and Yakutat, and later deliveries of $6.50, $6.75, $7 on a 10/20/40-pound size split in Homer.

However, deliveries have been sparse in Homer, partly due to high winds and cold weather, and partly due to processors focusing on cod, where at least one boat over 58 feet is fishing with pots, along with a handful of boats 58 feet and under, and the cod are starting to enter the more profitable milt season, where they are close to spawning.

The cod quota allows for up to 25 percent of the quota to be caught by boats over 58 feet in length.

Cod prices are reportedly between 40 and 45 cents per pound, where in recent years they have been closer to 35 to 38 cents per pound.

Icing conditions have prevented some smaller cod boats with jig gear from launching.

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

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