Bering Sea Pollock Fishery Casts Off

Ron Mitchell drops nets onto the deck of the F/V Seadawn. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)
Ron Mitchell drops nets onto the deck of the F/V Seadawn. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

The Bering Sea’s largest fishery opened up on Tuesday afternoon. Pollock crews are gearing up for a potential increase in their harvest — while still keeping an open mind about what the winter has in store.

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Within hours of arriving in Unalaska on Tuesday morning, the crew of the Seadawn was back to work.

“We’ll just get everything on the boat and then we can start organizing it,” Ron Mitchell yelled as he stacked extra nets on deck using a crane.

Once they start fishing, the Seadawn and the other vessels in the UniSea cooperative will have a little extra pollock to work with, too.The catch limit increased about 3 percent this year to 1.3 million metric tons.

But one of the fleet’s biggest expenses has been getting cheaper.

“We were hoping to make a little more money since fuel prices are down,” Mitchell says. “But then we heard the fish prices are down, too.”

Up in the wheelhouse, captain Richard Wyatt is a little more optimistic.

“Initial reports on prices aren’t so exciting to us,” Wyatt says. “But you can make up a little bit of that if fishing’s good, so we’ll just see where it goes.”

According to studies from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the amount of pollock in the Bering Sea is on the rise. That’s part of the reason why this year’s catch limit went up.

But other fish aren’t faring so well. Halibut have been getting smaller and harder to find. And the harvests have been shrinking, too.

That’s prompted some Alaska’s acting fish and game commissioner and others to file an emergency petition. They want a stricter limit on the amount of halibut that trawlers are allowed to take on accident — while they’re pursuing other fish, including pollock.

NMFS is still considering that request. But in the meantime, biologist Krista Milani says the same bycatch limits will apply.

“Everything’s managed by sectors and coops,” Milani says. “And so they kind of self-manage their caps. We definitely are looking at any kind of incidental catch that they’re coming across — prohibited species that they’re catching. And we’ll be watching their reports when they come in.”

The first round — and the first deliveries of pollock — are expected early next week.