Scallop boats remain the same after change to open access

Despite a new management structure, Alaska’s commercial scallop fisheries will look much the same as they have in prior years when they open July 1.

The guideline harvest levels, or GHLs, are similar to last year.

Statewide, up to 407,500 pounds of shucked meat could be harvested this season, compared to 400,000 pounds during the 2013-14 fishery, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced June 19.

Participation will also mirror last year, despite a change to the management structure in state waters that saw the end of the vessel-based limited entry program.

After the limited entry for scallops in state waters expired at the end of 2013, the fishery reverted to open access to any interested participant who registered with the ADFG, acquired a permit from the Commercial Fisheries Limited Entry Commission, or CFEC, and followed certain regulations to harvest scallop in state waters.

Although several newcomers registered for the fishery this spring, only former participants — who also have permits to harvest scallops in federal waters — will be making deliveries.

Don Lane of Homer, who was involved in the scallop fishery before it went to limited access, was one of the fishers who registered to participate this year.

Lane said he ultimately decided not to fish because of the timing of the season. The July 1 opening conflicts with salmon season, he said.

“My boat just wouldn’t be available to fish in July,” he said.

Lane said he registered for the fishery to show that he was interested, and that he’s hoping the season will be adjusted in future years, so that the fishery is more accessible to fishermen from Alaska’s coastal communities.

Prior to vessel-based limited entry, Lane said the scallop fishery near Cook Inlet started later, in September. That was a better season for vessels also targeting salmon, he said.

The limited entry program expired in December, and the Alaska Legislature did not renew it, in part because of concerns about consolidation in the fishery after a small group of Seattle-based owners systematically acquired most of the federal permits while relinquishing state water permits to avoid state caps on ownership.

During discussions about renewing the program, proponents including CFEC commissioners said that an open-access fishery could be difficult to manage, with the potential for too many participants given potentially small guideline harvest levels that would force ADFG to close the state waters scallop fisheries.

CFEC Chair Bruce Twomley told the Board of Fisheries last October that participation in the open-access fishery was unknown and unknowable, but could prove problematic. For the first season at least, those warnings from CFEC and the federal permit holders have proven unfounded.

This year, the new management structure required fishery participants to register for the season with ADFG so the department could gauge the likely participation in both state and federal waters.

Scallop fishery participants must also have 100 percent observer coverage while fishing, and, for the first time this year, fill out separate fish tickets in state and federal waters.

This spring, a handful of new participants purchased CFEC permits, but not all registered with ADFG, and no one ultimately acquired the observer coverage. As a result, the only fishers in state-waters are those participants with a federal permit and a history of participating in the limited scallop fishery.

The uptick in the 2014-15 harvest comes in the Alaska Peninsula, where an additional portion of federal waters is open for fishing this year with a 7,500-pound GHL, bringing the area total to 22,500 pounds. The new area in the Aleutians was open previously, but closed during the last five years because of the stock status.

The remainder of the 2014-15 limits parallel those from last year: 145,000 pounds in the Yakutat area, 185,000 pounds at Kodiak, 5,000 pounds at Dutch Harbor and 50,000 pounds in the Bering Sea.

The Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet scallop fisheries will remain closed this season. The ADFG announcement said that the biomass in Prince William Sound has increased in one area, and there’s a potential for stronger recruitment into the fishery in coming years, which could lead to it being opened then. The next survey is planned for spring 2016.

In recent years, the scallop fishery has been worth more than $4 million in wholesale value.

During the 2012-13 season, prices reached $10.63 per pound of shucked meat, and a 2014 report on the economics of the fishery said strong prices were expected to continue this year.

Some of Alaska’s scallop beds straddle the three-mile line that divides state and federal waters, and the two areas are managed in tandem, with a single harvest level.

11/21/2016 - 3:57pm