Mixed outlook for fish stocks, new regs

Alaska’s fisheries are in for a mixed year in 2013, if current management expectations hold true.

State forecasts and federal catch limits call for increased harvests of some species — like pollock — while other runs may fall shorter than in prior years.

Pollock harvesters heard good news when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, or NPFMC, set 2013 catch limits.

The total allowable catch, or TAC, for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands pollock was set at 1.27 million metric tons, about a 4 percent increase versus the 1.22 million metric ton harvest for 2012.

The Pacific cod harvest for the BSAI was set at 260,000 metric tons, a slight decrease from 2012.

In the Gulf of Alaska, pollock will also go up and cod will also go down. The TAC for Gulf pollock is 121,046 tons, up about 5,000 tons compared to 2012. Gulf Pacific cod is down about 5,000 tons, to 60,600 tons, and black cod, or sablefish, is down about 400 tons, to 12,510 tons.

The final decision on halibut management will come at the International Pacific Halibut Commission in January, but preliminary numbers make it likely that North Pacific fishermen will see about a significant cut compared to 2012.

Under the most likely scenario, the coastwide harvest from California to the Bering Sea would be 22.7 million pounds, down from a 33.54 million pound catch limit in 2012.

Alaska’s portion of the 22.7 million pound limit would be 17.41 million pounds, down from 25.5 million in 2012. That number includes an increase in the harvest forecasted for Area 2C, or Southeast Alaska, because the model showed an increase in exploitable biomass for the area. Southcentral, or Area 3A, is in line for another cut, possibly to less than 10 million pounds compared to nearly 12 million pounds in 2012.

The North Pacific council is recommending status quo management for the halibut charter industry in Alaska. The status quo measures are a reverse slot limit and one fish bag limit for Area 2C, and two fish of any size in Area 3A. The reverse slot limit prohibits keeping fish between 45 inches and 68 inches long.

The recommended halibut management is contingent on the IPHC setting harvest levels that results in a guideline harvest level, or GHL, of 780,000 pounds for Area 2C and 2.37 million pounds for Area 3A. Those numbers are likely, but won’t be determined until the IPHC annual meeting in January.

January will also mark the start of the Bering Sea snow crab and Kodiak tanner crab fisheries.

The 2013 total allowable catch, or TAC, for Bering Sea snow crab was set at 66.35 million pounds, a 25 percent cut compared to nearly 89 million pounds in 2012.

The snow crab harvest cut comes from a decrease in the mature male biomass (females may not be retained), and a change in the stock’s age composition. The crab is much older than in the past — about 60 percent of the mature male biomass is old shell crab — compared to about 37 percent last year.

Fishing Quota holders will be able to harvest 59.7 million pounds, while Community Development Quota programs will take the remaining 6.6 million pounds.

Kodiak tanner crab will be harvested from the eastside and southeast sections, for a total of 660,000 pounds.

Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game has also announced some predictions for major salmon runs.

In Bristol Bay, biologists are predicting that the red run will be about 26 million fish, with a harvest of 16.59 million fish. That’s down from the 2012 forecast of 32 million reds and a harvest forecast of 21.76 million fish.

In Southeast Alaska, managers say king runs on the Stikine and Taku rivers may not meet escapement goals. They’re predicting about 22,400 for the Stikine, and 26,100 on the Taku. Those numbers aren’t large enough for an allowable catch in either Alaska or Canada, although a limited fishery could be opened later in May if the actual run looks greater than expected.

Alaska fishermen will also see regulation changes beginning Jan. 1.

Despite increased pollock harvests, those prosecuting that fishery will see their first full year under the new king salmon cap, which limits the central and western Gulf of Alaska fleets to 25,000 fish split between the winter and fall seasons.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is launching a contentious new marine observer program, which includes more vessels than in the past, mostly in the partial observer coverage category.

Vessels in the partial coverage program will be sorted into three pools: trip selection, vessel selection and zero coverage. The zero coverage vessels are catcher vessels less than 40-feet and those using jig gear. Trawlers of any size and hook-and-line and pot gear vessels of at least 57.5 feet will be part of the trip selection pool. After logging a trip, which must occur 72 hours beforehand, those vessels will be immediately informed if they will have an observer.

The vessel pool includes catcher vessels between 40 and 57.5 feet, with hook-and-line or pot gear. In that pool, a randomly chosen group of vessels will receive coverage of their trips for 2 months, or 60 days.

Some of the possible changes are still up in the air. The state’s Board of Fisheries will likely take up changes to the Kenai River king salmon management plan this March, but the details are still being worked out by the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force formed this fall.

That body, however, is expected to find a way to protect kings while still allowing for harvest of other species. Last summer, managers shut down setnetters harvesting sockeyes to allow for maximum king escapement, a move that resulted in protests on the Kenai Peninsula.

12/04/2016 - 4:40pm