Walleye pollock is the Bering Sea’s biggest and most valuable fishery. But that doesn’t mean that the trawl fleet was ready and raring to go when the harvest opened in late January.
In their first week of A season, fishermen brought in just 11,000 metric tons of pollock. That’s 75 percent less fish than last year.
Krista Milani has been monitoring the catch for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Unalaska.
Milani: “It’s not quite up to where it was last year, but it’s comparable. They had a little bit of a slow start.”
That was intentional, says Randy Rothaus. He’s a deckhand on the Gun-Mar. Rothaus says they and other vessels in UniSea’s fleet were holding out for roe.
Rothaus: “That’s really what we’re looking for. As we get closer to March, where the roe is started to get watered out and higher quality roe, is really why we’re pushing to start later than we really normally do.”
Last winter, the fleet didn’t have much luck finding pollock with lots of roe. Those little eggs help fishermen get a higher price from Japanese buyers. So this year, some vessels chose to wait. A few fished for Pacific cod for a while instead of going after pollock when the season opened.
Rothaus says the fleet is seeing more roe now — and he’s hoping it will bump up their earnings. It also helps that the fishing is starting to go faster.
For the Gun-Mar:
Rothaus: “Here we are into our sixth trip and it was our best, our quickest, and our least fuel consumption.”
Several crew members in the pollock fleet say they’re expecting to wrap up their season by mid-March or April.
About a half-million metric tons of pollock are up for harvest this winter. The total allowable catch between the A season and the summertime B season, which starts in June, is 1,267,000 metric tons of fish.