New fishing areas, seasons, quotas for pollock, cod to slam Kodiak

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
welchlanieLR.jpg "It’s a triple whammy," said Alaska Groundfish Data Bank’s Julie Bonney of Kodiak, referring to next year’s reduced fishing areas, new fishing seasons and slashed quotas for pollock and cod in the Gulf of Alaska.

The decisions by fishery managers cut the pollock catch nearly in half, from roughly 220 million pounds to approximately 119 million pounds. For codfish, the catch was reduced from 66 million pounds to 54.3 million pounds.

To make matters worse, fishermen will have to venture farther for fewer fish at different times. New regulations continue a patchwork approach to fishing to protect endangered Steller sea lions, splitting Gulf of Alaska pollock seasons into four starts and stops and dividing cod openers into two seasons.

More area closures also mean traditional grounds for pot cod boats will be off limits, and it’s unlikely the entire catch will be taken in state waters, or within three miles, Bonney said. Likewise, pollock trawlers will be forced to fish primarily in waters of the treacherous Shelikof Strait, an area that’s hostile to smaller boats.

"Boats accustomed to fishing in the Kodiak area can be out on the grounds in one to three hours," Bonney said. "The Shelikof is about a 12-hour run, and it’s an area that offers little protection. Most of the smaller boats (under 60 feet) simply won’t be able to fish."

Just how important are pollock and cod to the community? From 1986 to 2000, the value of groundfish to Kodiak, primarily pollock and cod, increased from $23.5 million to nearly $45 million. Last year alone, pollock accounted for more than 35 percent of the total poundage of fish that crossed Kodiak’s docks, or 102 million pounds worth $9 million.

Cod landings of 65 million pounds were 23 percent of the total poundage, valued at $24 million, fully 25 percent of the total value. By comparison, salmon landings of roughly 62 million pounds accounted for 21.3 percent of Kodiak’s total poundage last year, worth $21.5 million, or 22.7 percent of the total value.

The slow bleed of Kodiak’s bottom line will be felt most severely by the town’s fish plant workers, whose processing days for pollock and cod will slip from 70 to about 33 for the year.

"What makes our town run is pounds across the dock," Bonney said. "We’ve got a residential work force. They’ve got to have the hours to get a paycheck." The cuts to next year’s catch quotas are so severe, Bonney said Kodiak may need to file for economic aid for the community.

On a more positive note, at least for pollock, the harvest reduction could be a one year event.

Tom Pearson of the National Marine Fisheries Service Sustainable Fisheries Division said that while this year’s stock assessments were way down from a year ago, surveys indicate that a strong age class of recruits appears to be on its way and the catch could begin to rise in 2003.

Conversely, the pollock stocks in the Bering Sea are at an all time high. That allowed fish managers to boost the 2002 catch to roughly 3.3 billion pounds. That represents just 15 percent of the estimated total adult stock of 10 million tons. The Bering’s exploitable pollock population has been in excess of 10 million tons for 13 of the last 20 years. Bering Sea pollock is the world’s largest fishery with an estimated value of more than $700 million annually.

The continued success of the Bering Sea pollock fishery prompted market analyst John Sackton to say: "At a time when many consumers believe wild fish stocks are on the verge of commercial extinction, it is important to publicize the fact that the single largest commercial fishery in the U.S. is enjoying robust health and record populations following nearly 25 years of effective fisheries management."

Crab fleet buyout

Congress appears poised to authorize a $100 million buyout of boats that compete for king and Tanner crab in the Bering Sea. The legislation is similar to a measure that was passed last year, except that it does not call for half of the buyout money to come as a congressional appropriation. Instead, the entire package would be a federal loan to be repaid in full by the fishing fleet over 30 years. The U.S. Senate has passed the legislation; from there it went to a joint budget conference committee.

The $100 million is estimated to be enough to buy out around 20 percent of the crab fleet, which numbers nearly 300 boats. If all goes according to plan, crab fishermen will participate in a bidding process sometime next year to determine how many are willing to sell out of the fishery and for how much.

By next summer or early fall, the fishermen could vote on whether to go forward with the buyout. A two-thirds majority is necessary, and the vote will depend largely on whether they feel enough of the fleet will be bought out to justify saddling the remaining crabbers with a 2.5 per cent assessment on their landings for the next 30 years to repay the loan.

Eat fish, be healthy

There’s more good news on the health front for fish eaters. A National Institutes of Health study has revealed that eating seafood and the presence of omega-3s in breast milk correlate with lower incidence of postpartum depression.

The study was conducted in 23 countries using 14,532 subjects, and reported in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Researchers also discovered that the breast milk of women who eat a lot of fish contains high levels of DHA, a valuable fatty acid credited with reducing the risk of heart disease, and essential to the development of a normal nervous system in infants.

Columbia vs. Copper

If a new plan is adopted by Oregon fishery managers, king salmon from the Columbia River could be available to buyers beginning in February. Number crunchers project a run of around 300,000 kings. The early fish are considered to be the premier salmon from the Columbia, where runs reached a record high of 417,000 earlier this year, rebounding from just 12,000 kings in 1995.

Small numbers of king salmon continue to be taken by Southeast Alaska trollers through the winter, but the first significant, and widely heralded, catch comes from the Copper River near Cordova in early May.

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

12/30/2001 - 8:00pm