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Alaska Fish Factor: Longliners Warned of Potential Damage from Lost Sablefish Pots

Sustainability Economics Politics +4 more

US - A mile long string of 29 sablefish pots was lost last month in Prince William Sound after being run over by tugs towing barges at Knight Island Passage.

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“It appears that some tug boats passed back and forth across where the gear was set, and now we have no idea where it is,” said Maria Wessel, a groundfish biologist at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office at Cordova.

The pots are part of an ongoing tagging study started in 2011 to track the movement of the Sound’s sablefish stock. It was intended to be the third test run for the project.

“We’re trying to see how well our population is mixed with the population in the wider Gulf of Alaska,” Wessel explained.

The state research vessel Pandalus has done several swipes of the grounds to no avail.

Both ends of the gear were anchored with 400 fathoms of buoy line with sets of three buoys each. Wessel called it “unusual” to lose a string of pots.

“It’s buoyed on both ends and unusual to lose both and not be able to retrieve it. But it does happen as witnessed by this event.”

Prince William Sound has an exclusive sablefish fishery that has been limited entry since 1996. Its 59 participants divide the annual 242,000 pound harvest using a shared quota system that is based on the vessel size and catch percentages of permit holders from 1991-1994.

Wessel said the lost string of gear poses no threat to navigation, but sablefish longliners could get snagged.

“There is a potential hazard of longline gear getting hung up on these lost pots and we want guys to be aware that is there.”

The missing gear poses no threat to the 53 shrimpers out on the grounds, she added.

“It’s highly unlikely. The sablefish pots were set in about 1,200 feet of water so it’s far deeper than someone targeting spot shrimp would be fishing,” Wessel said.

Fish opp flop - Alaska is trying to provide new and more fishing opportunities inside state waters but the two latest have fallen flat as a flounder.

A scallop fishery that reverted to open access this year drew no takers by the April 1 deadline, said Mark Stichert, state area manager for groundfish and shellfish for the Westward Region, which includes Kodiak, Chignik and the Western Peninsula.

“We only had four vessels that registered, and those are the same vessels that have historically been participating in the fishery in recent years,” he said, adding that one vessel registered to fish for scallops near Yakutat.

Stichert said he wasn’t surprised at the apparent lack of interest in the fishery.

“The scallop fishery is a high capital investment and there’s not a lot of extra scallop gear laying around the state. So I think if the fishery were to grow, it’s going to take some time,” he said.

Alaska’s Weathervane scallop fleet typically produce about a half million pounds of shucked meats each year, mostly dredged from federal waters, three to 200 miles offshore.

It is pricey scallops that each year make New Bedford, MA the nation’s most valuable fishing port. In 2013, for example, the dockside value of New Bedford’s landings was $380 million; over 80 percent from scallops.

Likewise, there were few takers once again for a pollock fishery that opened this month and will continue into June. It’s the second year for the trial fishery, and while it attracted a couple of Homer boats this winter, it’s only been tire kickers at Kodiak. The pollock catch limit for seiners is 100,000 pounds per trip. Even at 12-13 cents a pound, it adds up to a good pay day.

Icicle update – Of all the global fish news sites, London-based Undercurrent News has risen to the top when it comes to scoops on sales of Alaska seafood companies.

The latest - Icicle Seafood owners Paine and Partners of San Francisco are having a tough go selling their wild salmon assets in the face of a tight market and another big wild harvest on the horizon.
Icicle produces fresh, frozen and canned salmon at plants in Petersburg, Seward, Egegik/Bristol Bay, Larsen Bay/Kodiak Island; and near Dillingham. “Final bids are in and news on if Icicle will be broken up, or sold as a combined entity should come in early May,” wrote Undercurrent’s Tom Seaman and Matt Whittaker.

Other Undercurrent inside info: Thai Union Frozen Products is a possible bidder on the canned salmon side only.

Trident Seafoods may be interested in the wild salmon business along with Icicle’s pollock block; likewise, Coastal Alaska Premier Seafoods, a part of the Coastal Villages CDQ group, also is named as a “strong contender” for those same components.

Canada’s Cooke Aquaculture is likely to be the winner of the farmed salmon business, Undercurrent said, although Pacific Seafood Group is said to be very interested in the fish farms. Pacific also may be interested in taking on more, if not all, of Icicle at the right price.

Asking prices are reportedly $80 million for the salmon farms, $125 million for the wild salmon part of the business and $100-$125 million for the groundfish, Undercurrent reported.

Good job, fish watchers! The number of US fish stocks listed as overfished or subject to overfishing has dropped to an all-time low since 1997, when NOAA began tracking stock status.

According to the annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report to Congress released last week, by the end of 2014 just 26 stocks were on the overfishing list and 37 stocks were on the overfished list, a 7 percent reduction in one year. The only Alaska fishery named to the overfished list was blue king crab at the Pribilof Islands.

Overfishing means the annual catch rate is too high to support a maximum sustainable yield (MSY); an overfished stock means a current fish population is well below that parameter, which can be the result of environmental issues such as disease.

NOAA Fisheries tracks 469 stocks and stock complexes via 46 fishery management plans across the nation. The number of stocks rebuilt since 2000 increased to 37, the report said.