Pollock fishermen are delaying their season because processors are at full capacity due to an exceptionally strong pink salmon catch.
Processors in Kodiak received 1.3 million pink salmon Monday, the highest number in 2019, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Although pollock season C opened on Aug. 25, the pollock trawlers voted to delay their season until the first week in September, according to James Turner, plant manager of Ocean Beauty Seafoods. According to the Alaska Groundfish Databank, 845 pollock trawlers voted.
Pollock trawlers developed a voluntary management system for this season so they can choose to fish when the processors have capacity for deliveries instead of competing with salmon fishing, said Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Databank.
With processors working at capacity, Turner said he appreciates the pollock trawlers’ decision to wait.
“Your employees are your constraint, because you can only do so much with so many people,” Turner said, referring to the seasonal employees hired to help local employees process the summer fish harvest.
To process both pollock and salmon, processors would have to switch employees from the salmon lines to the pollock lines, meaning even fewer hands to process the large numbers of salmon delivered Monday.
Bonney said the voluntary management structure works well in terms of allowing pink salmon harvests to slow so canneries have room for pollock.
Concerns about lack of water were also a consideration in the trawling delay, Turner said.
He said summers with high temperatures and less rainfall are becoming the new normal, making water usage another constraint on processors’ capacity.
“2015 was kind of a really light rain year. And we were basically watching our water usage. 2017 was similar — you know, hotter years. So it seems to be becoming the norm,” Turner said.
Climate change may be affecting pollock populations, Bonney said.
During warmer years there is less recruitment, or “eggs that actually become fish fry and move into the system,” she said.
However, warmer waters have not seemed to increase adult pollock mortality.
“In terms of the older adults that are in the system, they seem to do well in the ocean, and we were not seeing mortality because of warmer waters,” she said.