State commercial fishing alive, well

PHOTO/Marion Owen/For the Journal
"In 50 years, our grandchildren will still be making a living from the sea and feeding an increasingly hungry world."
-- National Fisherman, December 2001

KODIAK -- People are always proclaiming the demise of the fishing industry. For a state like Alaska, which provides more than half of all U.S. seafood and four times more than any other state, count on the industry having a solid, albeit bumpy, future.

Alaska has 55 commercial fisheries of all kinds from Ketchikan to Kotzebue, occurring at different times throughout the year. Skates, snails, roe on kelp, flounders, rockfish, urchins and sea cucumbers plus more familiar species like salmon, cod, pollock and halibut combine to make up Alaska’s largest industry: commercial fishing.

The fishing cycle begins each Jan. 1 when longliners and pot boats set out for groundfish species like cod and rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, followed by trawlers targeting pollock on Jan. 20. Simply put, except for the Gulf, where many fisheries continue to be strangled by closures to protect sea lions, Alaska’s groundfish industry is booming.

In the Bering Sea, abundant supplies of cod and pollock, the "crown jewels" in world markets, continue to fuel confidence for the next few years. While other countries each year face reduced catch quotas, all eyes are on Alaska’s fisheries, which continue to thrive. This year, nearly 500 million pounds of cod will be harvested from Alaska waters, filling orders in the United States and throughout Europe and Asia.

For pollock, Alaska’s largest fishery, stocks are at an all-time high, allowing for a catch quota this year of roughly 3.3 billion pounds. Bering Sea pollock has an estimated value of more than $700 million annually. Looking ahead, less pollock from Russia has opened more doors in Japan for Alaska. Alaska groundfish is also making inroads in Europe, especially Germany, and markets are expected to increase.

The outlook for Alaska’s whitefish industry is good, as stocks remain strong overall. None of the groundfish stocks is overfished or approaching an overfished condition, according to assessments by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Commercial fishing caveat

photo: focus
01/06/2002 - 8:00pm