Pollock, cod catches up; halibut fleet prepares for cuts

The first fishing openings of 2014 will be for various groundfish around the state, and limits are up for pollock in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

In the Bering Sea, pollock fishermen will, as usual, have the largest share of the 2 million metric ton cap in 2014, with a total allowable catch, or TAC, of 1.267 million metric tons for the eastern Bering Sea.

The BSAI Pacific cod fisheries also open in January.

Pacific cod fishermen in the Bering Sea will take the next largest catch, at 246,897 metric tons, and yellowfin sole rounds out the top three with a TAC of 184,000 metric tons.

In Adak, Adak Cod Cooperative is expected to start processing Bering Sea Pacific cod this year at the local processing facility, as well.

Fishermen in the Gulf of Alaska will have access to about 60,000 metric tons more of groundfish in 2014 than compared to 2013, driven primarily by an increase in the pollock TAC.

The 2014 pollock TAC for much of the Gulf is 162,351 metric tons, compared to 110,272 metric tons and a total catch of 93,246 metric tons in 2013.

Pacific cod is also up, with a TAC of 64,738 metric tons in 2014, compared to 60,600 in 2013, as is deepwater flatfish, with a TAC of 13,472 metric tons compared to 5,126 in 2013.

The Gulf rockfish catch will be similar to 2013.

Those limits were set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages fisheries in federal waters, or generally between three and 200 miles from shore.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is similarly preparing for state-waters groundfish catches.

Prince William Sound’s pollock fishery will open Jan. 20, with a GHL of 3,891 metric tons, or 8.57 million pounds, an increase of almost 3 million pounds compared to 2013.

That fishery is prosecuted by trawlers, and managed as three sections. No section can take more than 60 percent of the GHL for the entire fishery, and bycatch must be limited to no more than 5 percent of the total pollock harvest.

Participating vessels must register by Jan. 13, and must have a 2014 miscellaneous saltwater finfish permit card for trawl gear.

There is no directed pollock fishery in Cook Inlet, although it must be retained as bycatch with certain conditions.

The state-waters and parallel Pacific cod fisheries operate under different dates and regulations, with the parallel season set to open Jan. 1. Management of that fishery will occur concurrently with federal management of the federal fishery in the central Gulf of Alaska.

The state-waters Pacific cod fisheries open later in the year, depending on gear types and when federal fisheries close.

The Kodiak-area GHL for Pacific cod is 14.63 million pounds.

Dutch Harbor fishermen will have access to 17.86 million pounds of Pacific cod in state-waters.

The Cook Inlet GHL is 4.39 million pounds, with a majority allocated to pot gear.

The PWS Pacific cod GHL is 1.46 million pounds.

Rockfish must be retained for groundfish fisheries in both PWS and Cook Inlet, with a 150,000-pound GHL in both areas, down slightly from 2013. There is no directed fishery in Prince William Sound for rockfish, and there are different bycatch limits for the directed sablefish, Pacific cod and other groundfish and halibut fisheries. In Cook Inlet, the only directed rockfish fishery is a jig fishery.

Salmon runs return to average

After a record salmon harvest in 2013, it will be hard for 2014 catches to top that, and forecasts call for an average year in many of the state’s salmon fisheries.

ADFG has estimated a 2014 sockeye run in Upper Cook Inlet of between 4.4 million to 7.8 million salmon. That would be an above average return for the region.

At the 6.1 million fish level, ADFG expects a total harvest of 4.3 million fish for all user groups, and an escapement of 1.8 million sockeyes to all rivers, mainly the Kenai.

For the Kenai River, the 2014 forecast calls for a sockeye run of about 3.8 million fish, which is equal to the 20-year average, but with a much larger proportion of fish that spend two years in freshwater and three years in the ocean.

That will also likely mean another summer of potential conflict with managers tasked with providing harvest opportunity for the sockeyes, while conserving king salmon.

On the Kasilof River, ADFG is forecasting a run of 1.06 million fish, less than the 1.08 million sockeye seen this year, but ahead of the 20-year average of 953,000 fish.

Farther west at Bristol Bay, between 18.3 million and 34.8 million sockeye salmon are expected in nine Bristol Bay river systems in 2014, with the forecast calling for a run that is most likely 26.6 million fish.

That would mean about 17.9 million salmon for the commercial common property harvest.

All Bristol Bay rivers are expected to meet their spawning escapement goals.

In Kodiak, the harvests are expected to be fairly average.

According to estimates reported in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, the 2014 season will bring 1.3 million sockeye salmon and 14.6 million pink salmon to Kodiak.

Managers have said that Yukon and Kuskokwim river returns could be similar to this year, meaning further restrictions to predict kings are likely.

In Southeast Alaska, the Stikine River king run is not expected to be large enough to allow a directed fishery in 2014.

It’s also expected to be an off-year for Southeast Alaska pink salmon, with the preliminary forecast from ADFG predicting a return of about 22 million fish.

Management bodies face decisions

While fishermen harvest, managers have some major several decisions this year.

In January, the International Pacific Halibut Commission will meet in Seattle to talk about the 2014 halibut catch limits. Cuts compared to the 2013 limits are expected.

Under the preliminary “blue-line” catch limits discussed at the IPHC’s interim meeting in fall 2013, coastwide total removals would be about 36.4 million pounds, with a commercial halibut harvest of about 24.5 million pounds for 2014.

That could mean about 18.74 million pounds of halibut for Alaska, down from about 22 million pounds in 2013, although it’s hard to make a direct comparison due to a change in how the numbers are calculated now.

The commission will also review the North Pacific council’s recommend charter management measures. For Area 3A, or the central Gulf of Alaska, the council recommendation would maintain a two-fish bag limit, but limits the second fish to 29 inches or smaller, and limits each charter vessel to one trip per calendar day.

For Area 2C, or Southeast Alaska, the recommendation is for a one-fish bag limit with a reverse slot limit — a retained fish must be shorter than 44 inches or longer than 76 inches.

Alaska’s Board of Fisheries, which makes allocative and policy decisions for state-managed fisheries, will discuss the contentious Upper Cook Inlet, including Kenai River salmon, beginning  Jan. 31. The board will also have a discussion of crab fisheries around the state, and talk about additional ways to conserve king salmon on the Yukon River, in March.

The federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council will continue its discussion of bycatch management in the Gulf of Alaska throughout 2014. In February, the council will discuss ways to involve communities in catch share programs at a Seattle workshop.

The council is also expected to consider discussion papers on halibut, crab, king salmon and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea, and review tendering issues that are part of the observer program.

The federal and state managers have also signaled that they may meet jointly to take up certain Gulf of Alaska fishery issues this year.

Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected].

01/02/2014 - 5:36am