State waters pollock working group holds final meeting

A limited entry state waters pollock fishery could ease some of the impending Gulf of Alaska rationalization headaches, but the experimental permits fishing for pollock with non-trawl gear haven’t yet proven their value.

A working group of stakeholders and fisheries officials met for the third and last time on Feb. 18 to discuss adding a limited entry state pollock fishery to Alaska waters for both trawl and non-trawl vessels.

The group intended to have a report on the matter the present to the Board of Fisheries for its March 17-20 meeting, but will end up with only a notes package. Board of Fisheries members Sue Jeffrey and John Jensen chaired and co-chaired the group, respectively, and board vice-chairman Tom Kluberton was in attendance. Duncan Fields and Ed Dersham from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council were in the working group as well.

Most of the meeting discussed each paragraph of Proposal 44, which Matt Hegge submitted to the Board of Fisheries 2013 to develop state pollock and groundfish fisheries. The proposal served as a template; the workgroup discussed different vessel sizes, percentages of guideline harvest level, or GHL, that would result in emergency closures, percentages of guideline harvest level allowed in each fishery area, landing limits, and permits.

At the Lower Cook Inlet meeting in December 2013, Hegge said he proposed the new fisheries to get a conversation started about how the state will respond to changes in federal management.

Currently, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is working on a bycatch management program that would likely rationalize federal fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, and allocate a portion of the allowed harvest each year to certain participants.

Although that would not apply in state waters, it will require the state to alter its own management for certain fisheries. Currently, the state operates parallel fisheries for some of the species that will be rationalized, including an open access trawl pollock fishery. In those fisheries, participants prosecute the fishery in state-waters, but under management that mirrors federal regulations.

Hegge and other fishermen have also asked that the state try to provide some additional entry-level fishing opportunity in state waters in addition to the current open access state waters fishery, because rationalization typically makes it more difficult for new participants to enter the federal fishery.

Potentially, the limited entry fishery could operate under an overall GHL for all gear types and only establish fleet limits after the fishery is more robustly defined than the current experimental phase. The vessel length most commonly discussed was 58 feet in overall length.

A limited entry pollock fishery for non-trawl gear has seen mixed results. Experimental fisheries opened in 2015 for non-trawl gear in Kodiak, Chignik, and Cook Inlet state waters. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, the experimental non-trawl fisheries yielded a total of just over 65,000 pounds of pollock, a small catch compared to the trawlers.

According to ADFG management biologists, Kodiak seiners expressed interest, but none ultimately put a net into the water. The Kodiak jig fishery had 46 apply for permits, of which 42 made pollock landings for a total of 33,000 pounds and an average landing of 245 pounds per vessel.

The experimental Cook Inlet pollock seine fishery had four permit applicants, two of which made landings totaling 32,000 pounds. The fish sold poorly; a Korean market interest fell through, and only 20 percent of the pollock caught were small enough for the large bait market. Janet Rumble, a ADFG Cook Inlet management biologist, said the low returns for the experimental fishery wouldn’t be worth the management costs.

“Harvest rates were low, the fish weren’t marketable,” Rumble said. “The amount of time that staff and I spent was substantial because of mandatory 100 percent observing. If we continued this fishery, it would have a significant financial impact.”

The poor returns for non-trawl gear might be expected, as trawlers take the lion’s share of pollock in the ocean. Prince William Sound trawler season in the current open access state pollock fishery ended with a total fleet catch of 9.8 million pounds of pollock, about 99 percent of the GHL.

Some trawlers in attendance expressed little interest in instituting the fledgling fisheries.

“I don’t support this,” said Kodiak trawler Paddy O’Donnell. “I think you should continue the seine just with commissioner’s permits. I think there’s a lot of work to be done here.”

Seiners, however, said that a non-trawl, limited access pollock fishery simply needs time to prove a sound investment, and that it offers opportunity for Alaskan small vessel owners and entry-level fishermen.

“We’re trying to develop things that keep money inside these local communities,” said Kodiak purse seine vessel owner Raymond May. “These aren’t the big guys who live in Seattle. The fish belong to the state. Why don’t they manage them?”

The Board of Fisheries will review the notes at its meeting on March 17-20. The board will also take part in a statewide pollock regulation meeting set for October.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

11/18/2016 - 5:51pm