YEAR IN REVIEW: As salmon booms, whitefish and crab take sharp turn down

Dismally low halibut numbers were found in surveys and announced last month by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, but final allocation decisions won’t be revealed until Jan. 22-26 when the commission meets in Portland, Ore.

Scientists at the International Pacific Halibut Commission interim meeting in Seattle revealed that survey results showed halibut numbers were down 23 percent from last summer, and the total biomass or weight had dropped 10 percent. This means the commission may drop commercial Pacific halibut catch limits by 20 percent.

The survey encompassed nearly 1,500 stations from Oregon to the far reaches of the Bering Sea, according to a news report by Laine Welch.

Scientists for the first time are looking closely at environmental and habitat conditions, as well as trends in other fisheries.

Warmer waters starting in 2007 appear to correspond to the lower halibut year classes, according to an IPHC senior scientist, Ian Stewart. Most relevant to the drop in halibut in recent years, as with Pacific cod, are the effects of “the blob,” an increase the past several years in pyrosomes or gelatinous zooplankton.

These were also documented in sea bird die-offs and whale stranding, Sewart said.

No. 2: Worse news is ahead for cod fishermen

The Gulf of Alaska cod quota for 2018 was reduced by 80 percent compared to last year North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

In response, the Kodiak Fisheries Workgroup is making efforts to have the steep decline in cod declared a fisheries disaster, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Dec. 18.

Kodiak officials also said they will send a letter to Gov. Bill Walker to ask for federal disaster relief funds to alleviate the severe economic impact the decline could have on the region.

In October, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey reported a 71 percent decline in Pacific cod abundance in the gulf since 2015.

Research suggests the decline was caused by the same mass of warm water in the Pacific in 2014 through 2016, known as “the blob” that produces the harmful zooplankton.

The higher temperature raised the metabolism of cod while reducing available food, resulting in increased fish deaths, the management council said. The warm water also affected cod egg production and larval survival.

With the severe population decline, the focus of management of cod in the Gulf of Alaska shifted to maintaining the spawning stock and increasing the chances of the fishery’s future viability, the management council said.

No. 3: Council forced to craft Inlet salmon plan

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is looking for input from Cook Inlet fishermen on how it should develop a management plan for the area’s salmon fisheries, the Peninsula Clarion reports.

The federal council, which regulates fisheries in the federal waters between three and 200 nautical miles offshore, is currently working on an amendment to the fishery management plan for Cook Inlet’s salmon fisheries. The process is likely to take multiple years of meetings. Council members decided to form a Salmon Committee that includes stakeholders in the fishery to keep the public in the loop.

Specifically, the council members are looking for ideas from the public on how the committee will work, according an announcement sent out in late November. That can include any fishermen of the salmon stocks in Cook Inlet.

“To develop a scope of work for the Salmon Committee, the council is soliciting written proposals from the public to help the council identify specific, required, conservation and management measures for the Salmon Committee to evaluate relevant to the development of options for a fishery management plan amendment,” the announcement states.

No. 4: Crab harvests drop, too

Biologists had some less-than-stellar news about Alaska’s crab fisheries in October as well: surveys show several species’ biomass declined in the past year, although Tanner crab is on the rebound compared to past years.

Last year, the major commercial crab harvests of Bristol Bay red king crab and snow crab were cut and Tanners were closed completely due to concerns about the amount showing up in surveys.

So this year’s news was not out of the blue, and the reopening of the Tanner crab fishery was an upshot.

The bottom line is that this year, unlike last, those three big crab fisheries will all open this year. But the quota for Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab is down compared to the year prior.

That’s all largely the result of the survey and modeling work during 2017, which was explained in detail at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council annual update in October. The season began Oct. 15.

For Bristol Bay red King crab, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which jointly manages the federal crab fisheries with the council, opted to set the total allowable catch, or TAC, at 6.6 million pounds, the lowest in at least 20 years.

The Bering Sea snow crab quota is also a decline from the year prior, at about 18.9 million pounds. The Tanner crab fishery is open in the western district, with a quota of about 2.2 million pounds, while the eastern district is closed.

— Molly Dishner for the Journal

12/20/2017 - 10:51am