KODIAK — Higher quotas, clear weather and big schools of pollock and cod are giving Kodiak processors and fishermen one of their busiest spring seasons in years.
The effects have spilled over into the rest of Kodiak, as Horizon Lines reports a record number of outgoing containers, Kodiak Electric Association reports its highest power load ever and the city water supply delivers more than double its normal flow.
“It’s been nuts,” said Horizon Lines Kodiak manager Rick Kniaziowski. “All of the plants have been maxed out.”
Pollock, the cheap whitefish found in fish sticks and fast-food filets, is normally fixed in four seasons, two in spring and two in fall. This year’s spring seasons had a quota of 31,000 metric tons in the waters west of Kodiak Island. In the waters east of the island, the quota was 8,200 tons. Both figures are up significantly from last year, when the western spring quota was about 26,000 tons and the eastern spring quota was about 6,500 tons.
This year’s higher quotas have been paired with exceptional fishing success.
“It is definitely good fishing,” said Josh Keaton, who monitors the fishery from the National Marine Fisheries Service office in Juneau. “I hear rumors of (trawler) tows filling a boat in less than 30 minutes. When pollock is going, they just can’t process the fish fast enough.”
The second spring pollock season starts March 10, and in past years, fishermen have hit the season quota in about a week. This year, even with a raised limit of 17,000 tons, fishermen still finished in about a week.
“With only 30 boats, that’s really good fishing,” Keaton said.
The pollock success follows a big spring cod season. Cod fishing in the Gulf of Alaska is divided into two seasons, one state and one federal. Both seasons had higher limits in 2012 than 2011. In the waters around Kodiak Island, the federal spring season quota was up from 24,000 metric tons to 25,600. The state season — only one for the whole year, unlike the federal fishery — saw its quota rise from 6,726 metric tons to 7,117 tons.
All those numbers mean a lot of fish coming over Kodiak’s docks.
“I think most would say we’ve had a pretty good first quarter of the year,” said Julie Bonney of the Kodiak Groundfish Data Bank, which tracks the fishing industry. “We did a massive amount of product in the shortest time ever.”
In February, Kodiak Electric Association reported generating 27 megawatts to meet the demand from the island’s processing plants at peak load, a new record. A similar mark is expected when KEA reports results on Thursday. Harry Heiberg, manager of Kodiak’s water system, reported flows of about 10.5 million gallons per day during the past week.
“For a town of 10,000, we’re running water flows for a typical town of 100,000,” Heiberg said.
He expects the month’s total water flow to be 250 million gallons.
“It’s been pretty intense, but we haven’t had any trouble meeting the needs,” he said.
On the island’s export docks, business was so brisk that the port almost ran out of container vans to hold all of the fish bound for Asia and the Lower 48.
“It’s been record-breaking in terms of containers,” Kniaziowski said.
Alaska Airlines, which last year awarded Kodiak the “Codfather” designation for the amount of fish it ships by air, also reported a surge in activity.
“In terms of the seafood movement out of Kodiak, we have seen an uptick in the past couple of weeks,” said Marianne Lindsey, a spokeswoman for the airline. “It’s definitely an uptick, and it’s much better than January/February, when we were challenged with some weather.”
Most of Alaska Airlines’ traffic has been Pacific cod, as cheaper pollock travels by sea, she said.
But every silver cloud carries a dark lining, and Kodiak’s fish surge is no exception.
“Because you’re pushing the fish through as fast as you can, you don’t have time to get all the value out of it,” Bonney said.
While processing plants can handle the load, they have to ignore specialized processing techniques that create secondary products, she said. In the effort to move on to the next boat, there’s more waste.
Bonney said the need for production also shows up in the island’s workforce.
“In terms of the workforce and the processing side, if we had been able to slow it down, we probably could have doubled the amount of hours for the workforce,” she said. “In terms of a lot of fish at one time, that’s pretty cool, but in terms of a business plan, I don’t know that it was.”
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at email@example.com.