Bering Sea winter fisheries underway

A tow of pollock is unloaded on the deck of the Sea Prince to be sorted January 11, 2015.
A tow of pollock is unloaded on the deck of the Sea Prince to be sorted January 11, 2015.

Alaska’s winter fisheries are underway, with trawlers getting in the water January 20.

Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation has boats out in a handful of fisheries said quota manager Anne Vanderhoeven.

“We have about a third of our A season Pollock harvested, so that’s a good sign at this point in the process,” she said February 11. “Hook and line cod has been about normal for this time of year, and snow crab is doing great. The fleet has about ¾ of the total GHL landed already.”

The company has access to about 28,000 metric tons of Pollock, 5,000 metric tons of Pacific cod and 800,000 pounds of snow crab.

Vanderhoeven said that so far this winter, chinook bycatch seems to be up a little compared to last year.

“It’s too early to say of course if that means there are a lot more chinook out there, or just that they happen to be hanging out in the same places where the fisheries are happening, but it’s still well below historic highs as far as bycatch goes,” she said.

When the halibut fishery opens up this spring, local fishermen and BBEDC’s larger boats will have access to more fish than last year. Vanderhoeven says there are two main reasons for the increase.

“The survey that the IPHC did last summer had much better results than they’ve had in recent years, and that accounted for about half of the increase that we saw,” she said. “The other half, about 700,000 pounds, came out of reduced bycatch from the trawl flatfish fisheries in the Bering Sea. When you put those two things together, and you do all the magic that happens in the model with fish growing because they get older, they get bigger, and that kind of thing, it really is a substantial increase to area 4CDE.”

That means this year, the near-shore small-boat halibut fishery managed by BBEDC will have access to about 115,000 pounds, almost 40,000 pounds more than it started with last year. The larger-boat halibut fishery opens March 19, while the near-shore fishery gets started later in the spring.