Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Bering Sea Fisheries Seeing Increased Participation

Seafood harvesters of crab and groundfish in the stormy waters of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands were close to or had caught all of their seasonal allocations by early March.

“The weather has been pretty warm, and Western Alaska has been hit by some crazy storms,” said Miranda Westphal, a Dutch Harbor area management biologist for groundfish and shellfish for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The weather didn’t deter the Pacific cod fleet, whose 37 vessels in state waters ended their harvest on Feb. 24 having taken their full 31,922,600-pound allocation of P-cod.

Another 17 vessels were registered and still fishing in an open subdistrict of the Aleutian Islands aiming to catch their 14,078,500-pound quota, but their harvest is kept confidential because only one processor was on the grounds. The snow crab fishery is up to 21 million pounds and 78 percent of that allocation have been harvested leaving another five million pounds to go for the 60 or so vessels chipping at that 27,581,000-pound quota. In the Western Bering Sea, 73 percent of the 2,439,000-pound Tanner crab allocation has been caught, according to Westphal. Normally there are some 65 to 70 vessels working the snow crab fishery and more may join them, while 31 vessels are registered for the Tanner crab fishery.

In the eastern Aleutians district, 100 percent of the 3.4 million-pound quota of golden king crab has been harvested. In the western district, one boat was still fishing with 56,000 pounds left to harvest out of the 2.2 million-pound quota.

“Usually the season would go much longer at least in the western district, where they longline pots for golden king crab,” said seafood industry veteran Frank Kelty, now the mayor of Unalaska, which lies 800 miles southwest of Anchorage in the heart of the North Pacific/Bering Sea fisheries.

One tanner crab fishery was still open west of St. Paul, with 600,000 pounds of a 1.7 million- pound allowable catch remaining to harvest.

Kelty noted that the same vessels harvesting snow crab are also doing tanner crab, and that some of those vessels had already caught their allocation.

The fact that there are no ice issues for the third or fourth year in a row is also a contributor to the speed of this year’s harvest. Several years ago, when heavy ice made it impossible to deliver seafood catches to designated harbors, the industry went to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to be able to deliver product elsewhere. However, this has not been a concern since.

A lot of the fleet has been fishing south and west of St. Matthew Island, finding “beautiful, big snow crab,” Kelty said. “In a heavy ice year, you couldn’t go that far north,” he added. “They are getting maybe 180 crab per pot, 1.4 live weight (on average) and good, clean product.”

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