Board nominations in; Southeast herring fishery finished
Nine names are vying for three seats on the state Board of Fisheries, including six newcomers. That gives Governor Parnell the unique opportunity to replace a majority of the seven-member Fish Board, should he choose to do so, and should the Alaska legislature go along with it — an unlikely scenario.
It took filing a Freedom of Information request and a 10-day wait to get the names of the Fish Board hopefuls, said veteran legislative watchdog Bob Tkacz in his weekly Laws for the Sea.
They include the three incumbents — John Jensen of Petersburg, Sue Jeffrey of Kodiak, and Reed Morisky of Fairbanks. The hopefuls included: Alan Gross of Petersburg, an orthopedic surgeon and new commercial fishing skipper; Dean Scott Risley, a 26-year gillnetter from Haines; Harvey Kitka, a hand troller and Sitka Tribal council member; William Kuhlmann, a retired Bristol Bay setnetter now living in Eagle River; Thane Humphrey, a business/training entrepreneur and outdoor survival expert from Anchorage, and Cary Jones, a Juneau chiropractor.
The Legislature has scheduled a joint session for April 11 to vote on all confirmations.
Tops to the Rock
Kodiak will be one of the first Alaska towns to meet Eileen Sobeck, the newly named NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator, often called the National Marine Fisheries Service. Her visit comes in response to a ComFish invitation from the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce; accompanying her will be Senator Mark Begich, well known for bringing D.C. officials to all corners of the state.
“She is anxious to come and learn more about Alaska specific issues and ComFish is the perfect event for her to really get a good sense of that,” Sen. Begich said in a phone conversation. “There is so much you learn when you go out to the remote communities.”
Kodiak will provide an opportunity for Sobeck to see Alaska’s most diverse fishing fleet and busiest year-round working waterfront.
“On the fish end, there is no question that Kodiak is the right place to be and we’re going to give her a good education,” Begich said.
As NOAA Fisheries director, Sobeck oversees the management and conservation of all marine life in U.S. waters, from coastal habitat to humpback whales and everything in between. She is scheduled to spend two days in Kodiak starting April 17. See the line up at www.comfishalaska.com. Sobeck will also visit the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage prior to her Kodiak visit.
Long haul for crab science
Alaska’s golden king crab fleet plans to undertake the largest survey ever covering the entire range of the Aleutian Islands golden king crab stock — an 800-mile span from Dutch Harbor to Atka.
“It is exciting to think that for the first time we will have a good index of the size of the golden population, the age and sex structure, the distribution and how deep they go and what proportion of the population occurs at different depths,” said John Hilsinger, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation.
Through 2006 state managers surveyed a small area of the Aleutians, but there’s been no budget since to assess the far flung crab stocks. The foundation formed two years ago and its harvester members partner with biologists during the golden king crab fishery.
“We plan to design the survey for the entire area, and then start off the first year by doing a portion of it to prove the concept and make sure it works and integrates well with the fishermen. Then we’ll spread it out,” Hilsinger said.
The expanded surveys will start yielding meaningful results in three to five years, and it could be 10 years before a proven track record of the population can be modeled over time.
“The crabbers are very committed to help over that time frame. That’s a real major contribution by the fleet,” he added.
The Aleutians golden king crab fishery harvest has operated under a six million pound fixed cap for decades, and crabbers believe the catch could be higher. Eventually, goldens could overtake Bristol Bay and become Alaska’s largest king crab fishery. If the survey gets the nod by stakeholders in May, it will begin when the fishery opens in mid-August.
Herring seiners at Sitka Sound last week landed close to their 16,000-ton quota and roe counts were high – the only thing missing is a price. Lots of herring roe remains in the freezers of Alaska’s single customer, Japan, who had yet to make an advance price offer. Last year Sitka fishermen averaged about $500 per ton; talk on the dock last week put it closer to $150.
Conversely, freezers of sablefish (black cod) have emptied and pushed up prices for those prized fish. Seafood.com reports fishermen’s prices at Southeast Alaska at $5.25 for 5-7 pounders, $4.50 for 4- to 5-pound fish, and $3.75 for 3- to 4-pound fish. Buyers report good interest in sablefish and more demand is coming from U.S. restaurants. Last year about 70 percent of Alaska sablefish went to Japan, down from nearly 100 percent a few years ago.