2002 halibut limit goes up statewide, but could go down in Southeast, Aleutians

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
welchlanieLR.jpg Halibut limits will be higher next year if recommendations are accepted by fishery managers next month. The International Pacific Halibut Commission has announced that based on stock assessments, the coastwide catch could be boosted to 74.08 million pounds, up from this year’s quota of 73.18 million.

The harvest figures include Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska. Alaska longliners always get the lion’s share of the catch, which would be 61.02 million pounds of halibut if all goes according to plan. That’s up from just more than 58 million pounds this year.

Southeast Alaska and the lower regions of the Aleutian Chain are the only regions where halibut catches may be reduced.

The halibut catch limit recommendations for next year and other issues will be taken up at the IPHC annual meeting scheduled for Jan. 22-25 in Seattle. Any proposals for consideration must be submitted to the IPHC by Dec. 31. The halibut fishery begins each year on March 15 and ends on Nov. 15.

Offshore fish farms

Some 100,000 fish are being raised in a large cage anchored to 28 acres of the ocean floor, just two miles offshore from Honolulu International Airport. The cage measures 65 feet from top to bottom, is 80 feet wide and has 50 feet of clearance from the ocean floor.

According to the Los Angeles Times, it’s the first commercial lease for offshore marine aquaculture in the country. The fish being raised in the cage are moi, a favorite in Hawaii. Since July, divers have been feeding the fish daily, pumping pellets through a tube to the cage 40 feet below.

Because the cage is submerged, it poses no hazard to navigation and is not in danger from storms. Offshore fish farming also does not pose environmental concerns, as fish wastes are quickly diluted, and disease is less likely to spread. The project so far boasts less than a 1 percent mortality rate, according to the National Sea Grant College Program, the project’s sponsor.

The first moi harvest is scheduled for sometime next month and will fetch roughly $8 a pound. Under a 15-year lease, the project may soon expand to four cages with harvests of up to 2 million pounds a year.

Aquaculture has been growing steadily in Hawaii over the past decade, from $6.9 million in value in 1991 to $22.2 million last year, according to state figures. Offshore fish farming could boost those figures substantially, because cage culture allows large volumes of fish readily available to major markets on the West Coast and Japan, the Times said.

Fish farming, Alaska style

The Department of Natural Resources is accepting comments on 13 aquatic farm applications for sites in Southeast Alaska and one in the Southcentral region. The Southeast sites propose to raise oysters, geoduck and littleneck clams, kelp and abalone. The lone aquatic farm application for Southcentral is for growing oysters in Paradise Cove near Seward.

Any questions regarding the proposed sites can be directed to Guyla McGrady at 907-269-8543. The deadline for applications is Dec. 26.

Grant program aids marketing

The Alaska Department of Community & Economic Development and the Kodiak-based Fisheries Industrial Technology Center are again offering Specialty Salmon Marketing mini-grants. The program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the efforts of Sen. Ted Stevens, R -Alaska, provides roughly $400,000 to Alaska salmon processors and fishermen trying to make inroads into new markets.

"The purpose of this grant program is to provide a marketing boost to those proven value-added salmon products that are paving new market directions and opportunities for Alaska salmon overall," stated a press release. Awards will range from $10,000 to $100,000 each, and may be used for advertising, test product giveaways, marketing manager travel, label design and all tasks related to product marketing. Administrative services and indirect costs are not allowed.

Clarification on sea otters

Regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to deny the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to list Alaska sea otters as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, pending further scrutiny, Fish Factor stated in an earlier column that any listing holds the potential to constrain fishing, because of increased regulations and area closures.

USFWS public affairs specialist Bruce Woods added the following clarification: "The key word here is potential,’ and in the case of this species we feel that the potential for significant impacts upon fishing is actually very low. Sea otters eat benthic invertebrates (primarily sea urchins), and therefore don’t compete with large-scale commercial fisheries in southwest Alaska."

Woods added, "Sea otters typically occur in shallow, nearshore waters where there is little fishing activity, so the incidence of entanglement and mortality is also low. We’ve been working closely with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to keep its members informed about sea otter issues, both to help them understand these issues and to reassure them that the potential impacts of a sea otter listing would, in all likelihood, be minimal."

Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

12/23/2001 - 8:00pm