Experimental Pollock Seine Fishery Opens in Cook Inlet

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is conducting a test fishery for walleye pollock using seine gear that starts today and runs through February.

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Bycatch is always a concern.

“It is the highest priority for us to not catch king salmon,” says Fish and Game groundfish management biologist Jan Rumble.

Because seining for pollock hasn’t been done here before, extra precautions are in place to make sure it’s done right.

“We will have observers on every trip that goes out to go try to catch pollock with seine, there will be one of our observers on board to monitor what is coming up in the net besides pollock,” says Rumble. “Then, if there’s too many king salmon coming up in the nets, there’s a large possibility that we will stop this experiment immediately.”

But if things go right, the test fishery will run for about three months. Then, the results of the experiment will likely go before the Board of Fish for review in March 2015.

According to the ADF&G release, one main purpose is simple – to test the effectiveness of using purse seine gear to fish for pollock, instead of the typical trawling.

But Rumble says this is one step in a larger effort to evaluate the viability of adopting a state guideline harvest level pollock fishery in the Gulf of Alaska.

“People are interested in having state waters fisheries so that we can still maintain smaller fleets of people who have access to fisheries without having permits,” says Rumble.

As the federal pollock fishery goes to a catch shares program, there’s been interest among fishermen to see more state waters open up.

“There’s a big push with fishermen to have some fisheries that are not already spoken for, that you can enter as a young fisherman,” says Rumble. “You don’t have to buy a permit; you can just sign up and try out the fishery and see if you’re good at it, see if you can make part of a living doing it.”

That’s been some of the feedback garnered at meetings of the Gulf of Alaska Pollock Workgroup.

According to Rumble, in the last meeting cycle, there was a proposal before the Board of Fish to establish a state waters pollock fishery management plan.

Rather than take action on it, it formed the working group. It’s made up of federal fisheries managers, ADF&G, fishermen in existing pollock fisheries, and fishermen interested in developing fisheries.

It’s taking a closer look at how a state-GHL fishery would maximize the use of Gulf of Alaska pollock resources while maintaining environmental protections.

Rumble says after a meeting earlier this year, Kodiak’s ADF&G biologists sought out fishermen for test seine and jig fisheries. There was a lot of initial interest, but when it came time to assign commissioner’s permits, no one showed up. Rumble says she understands why.

“You know, it’s a risk, right? What if they don’t catch anything? I mean, they’re probably going to invest some gas and time and money in their nets to do this fishery and if they come out and they don’t make any money, it’s a little bit of a risk,” says Rumble.

Now, biologists are trying again in Cook Inlet. They’ve already got a number of fishermen signed up. Rumble says it’s a reflection of changing times in this area.

“You know, 20 years ago, we had a big shellfish fishery here for Tanner crab, for Dungeness, for shrimp,” says Rumble. “Basically, there’s been a switch from that kind of shellfish to Pacific cod and pollock. So, people will tell you, if you interviewed a fisherman right now, even the sport fishermen, they would tell you there’s tons of pollock in this bay.”

The harvest limit comprises some of the quota left over from the federal fishery. 220,000 pounds are available before December 31st. Then another 220,000 are available until February 28th.