Conditions have also taken their toll on Kodiak fishermen, who began the annual Tanner crab season late and are
running a bit slower than expected in the first Pacific cod season of the year.
With freezing spray glazing fishing boats with ice and high winds encouraging others to stay in port, it’s no surprise things are moving more cautiously, said Tom Pearson, the National Marine Fisheries Service sustainable fisheries coordinator in Kodiak.
“I’d say that it’s a little slower than last year due to the rough weather we’ve had, but it’s still going pretty good,” he said of the cod season.
The beginning of the Kodiak Tanner crab season was delayed 24 hours by gale-force winds at the start of this week. As a safety measure, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which regulates the Tanner fishery, postponed the start.
On Wednesday, Sune Forsman, plant manager at Westward Seafoods in Kodiak, said the first Tanners were expected to begin arriving at processing plants Thursday.
“I just heard from the first guy,” he said.
Late Thursday, ADF&G announced it will close the inside waters of the southeast section of the Kodiak district to Tanner crab fishing at 11 a.m. Saturday. The southeast section’s quota was set at 300,000 pounds this year, and the closure of waters three miles or less from shore is an early sign that fishermen there are finding success.
While it’s too early to confirm how the Tanner fishery will perform this year, Forsman said cod is doing well.
“What we’re getting is good-sized cod,” he said.
This cod season is the first being conducted under new federal regulations that divide the allowable catch among different fishing gear groups, a process called sector splits.
“With the splits here, it’s hard to predict how the season will progress,” Pearson said.
Since each fishing group gets a designated amount of fish under sector splits, fishing boats can take more time gathering their catch. Instead of a mass race to catch as much fish before the quota is reached, there is a smaller race within the sector quotas.
The first major effects of that should begin to appear today as trawlers begin their work. The big guns of the fishing industry, trawlers are forced to start fishing cod later because of their ability to catch vast amounts of fish in a short time.
In past years, they’ve had to start fishing with a full effort on the first day allowed, because they were competing with the rest of the fishing fleet.
Now, with an allocation devoted to trawlers, they can wait if the weather is bad or if the cod can’t be found easily.
“Since it’s their allocation, that’s a tool that hasn’t been in their arsenal until now,” said Josh Keaton, who works in the Juneau office of NMFS and monitors fishing statistics.
Keaton said it’s still early, but his observations have matched Pearson’s.
“It’s pretty typical other than a little slower than expected,” he said. “There’s nothing too spectacular going on here.”
The first pollock season of the year also opens today, but Keaton said there sometimes is an informal agreement among the trawl fleet to hold off fishing until the pollock further develop their roe, a valuable secondary product that accompanies the most popular groundfish in Alaska.
Until pollock fishing begins in earnest, Keaton said he expects to see trawlers catch their cod quota by later this month or early February at the latest.
This year, however, sector splits mean other fishermen won’t be forced to go out into the weather to compete.
“With the sector splits, these gear groups like pot and hook and line could be fishing weeks longer than they normally do,” Keaton said. “That’s the good news for the small guys.”
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at email@example.com.