As anticipated, there will be a lot less Pacific halibut crossing the docks this year.

On Friday the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which oversees fisheries in the U.S. and Canada, reduced the 2011 coast-wide catch limit by 19 percent to 41 million pounds. Alaska’s share of the catch will be 32.5 million pounds, down from 40 million last year.

“Of course, they cited the ongoing concern with the decline in the size at age and declining catch rates coast wide. There’s a lot of fish out there, they just don’t seem to be growing and recruiting into the fishery,” said Doug Bowen with Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.

“The commissioners commented that the halibut are the smallest size at age in the history of the fishery,” he added during a phone call from the annual meeting.

There are lots of theories as to why the fish are growing so slowly.

Most point to competition for food from the abundance of small halibut, as well as voracious arrowtooth flounder, which blanket the Gulf seafloor. More predation by burgeoning cod and pollock stocks might also be a factor.

Southeast Alaska longliners will take the biggest hit – a 47 percent cut to just 2.3 million pounds. For the biggest fishing hole in the Central Gulf, the catch is slashed 28 percent to just over 14 million pounds. Halibut catches in the Western Gulf will decrease from 10 million 7.5 million pounds. Only fishing areas along the Aleutians and Bering Sea will see slight increases.

In other actions, the IPHC imposed a 37-inch size limit on the sport charter sector in Southeast Alaska, which has exceeded its catch limit every year since 2004. Commissioners said the size limit may be lifted when catch shares go into effect next year.

The proposals to allow filleted halibut aboard charter vessels or house boats went down in flames due to enforcement concerns. The IPCH plans to begin a project focusing on reducing halibut bycatch in other fisheries to get an accurate accounting of all removals. Due to expressed concerns over its perceived ad hoc management style, the commission will do a review of its own performance over the coming year.

Doug Bowen said it was a tough meeting, but there was general agreement that the health of the halibut stocks comes first.

“Several commissioners said it was the most difficult meeting they had ever participated in and they were forced to make very tough decisions,” he said. “But people agreed that drastic measures need to be taken so we can get a handle on this, and get these catches down to where the stocks can rebuild.”

The 2011 halibut fishery will open on March 12 and end Nov. 18. The 88th annual meeting of the IPHC will be held next January in Anchorage.

Surimi spreading

Pollock, Alaska’s biggest fishery, got under way on Jan. 20th in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. More than 3 billion pounds of the popular whitefish will be harvested from Alaska waters this year, accounting for 30 percent of U.S. seafood landings.

Many people are not aware that pollock is valued for three products: fillets, roe and surimi. Surimi, which means ground meat in Japanese, is a protein-packed, ready-to-eat item that is shaped and flavored to taste like crab, shrimp or other seafoods. Likely, you’ve eaten it in seafood salads or soups.

Last year surimi production from Alaska reached nearly 230 million pounds, an increase of more than 19 percent. Nearly 205 million pounds of the surimi pack was exported, a whopping 30 percent increase over 2009. Market analyst Ken Talley said foreign wholesalers paid $1.27 per pound for Alaska pollock surimi, up nearly 11.5 percent.

Surimi is popular in the U.S., but most of the pack goes to Japan and South Korea. Talley said Europe is becoming a bigger customer and that Europeans are doing all sorts of things with pollock surimi, including snack packs for school kids.

Salmon in SOTU

A letter from Sen. Mark Begich to President Obama has gone viral on the nation’s biggest political blogs. The President mentioned smoked salmon in his State of the Union speech, prompting Begich to send him a can and a jar of the best, along with a letter. Some excerpts:

“Of the many subjects in your speech, perhaps none caught the attention of my constituents more than your reference to salmon: Alaska’s official state fish and a billion-dollar, sustainable part of our economy.

“I’ll leave it to scientists to explain the cycle of this great fish, which are spawned in fresh water and spend their lives at sea, and why managing these species throughout their range is not a duplication of government efforts, but a fulfillment of our responsibility to sustain this iconic species.

“Instead, I’d rather you just had a taste. … I think one taste of Alaska salmon also will convince you why salmon are best kept wild and not grown in a test tube as some are asking the government to consider.”

Coal comments extended

The Department of Natural Resources has extended the public comment period to Wednesday, Feb. 2, for the petition to designate portions the Chuit River watershed as unsuitable for surface coal mining operations. DNR also will hold a meeting Feb. 2 at the Tyonek Community Center. Tyonek is a closed village so permission to enter can be arranged by calling the Tyonek Administrative office, 583-2201, for permission to enter the village. Comments also may be sent to

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