Laine Welch: Snow crab pots drop earlier than usual

FisheriesJanuary 5, 2014 

Salmon will always be the heart of Alaska's fisheries. That's why many people think of summer as "fishing season." But that's not the case.

The heart of winter is when Alaska's largest fisheries get underway. On Jan. 1, hundreds of boats with hook-and-line gear or big pots will begin plying the waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for Pacific cod, rockfish and other bottom-dwelling fish. Then, on Jan. 20, trawlers take to the seas to target Alaska pollock, the world's largest food fishery, with a harvest near 3 billion pounds.

Crab boats will be out on the water for golden kings along the Aleutians and snow crab in the Bering Sea (Alaska's largest crab fishery).

In early March, the eight-month-long halibut and sablefish seasons start. March also marks the beginning of Alaska's roe herring circuit at Sitka Sound. Those fisheries continue for several months all the way up the coast to Norton Sound.

While fresh Alaska king salmon is available from Southeast trollers nearly year-round, mid-May marks the official start of Alaska's salmon season with the runs of kings and reds at the Copper River. Salmon fisheries take center stage all summer and into the fall.

Mid-October brings another of Alaska's fishing highlights: red king crab from Bristol Bay. And so it goes, on through the end of each year, along with too many other fisheries to name.

Crab updates

Southeast crabbers ended one of their best fall-winter Dungeness fisheries ever. The fishery, which began in October, produced 1 million pounds for the season, even with less gear on the ground.

"The last two years, the catch has come in at half that," said Adam Messmer, state assistant shellfish manager for Southeast. He said 87 permits fished for fall dungies.

The price averaged $2.53 a pound, similar to last year, bringing the value of the catch to more than $2.5 million. The Dungeness harvest from the fall and summer fisheries totaled 2.6 million pounds, well above expectations.

Switching to the Bering Sea . . .

Snow crab pots are being dropped earlier than usual. The fishery traditionally gets going in mid-January. Two reasons: Crabbers want to avoid getting closed out by sea ice and, this year, strong demand combined with poor catches is pushing prices to their highest ever.

Contract prices for snow crab on its way to Japan were reported at $5.50 to $5.60 a pound for smaller sizes and $6.10 for large crab. Alaska's total catch is 54 million pounds, down 20 percent from last year. Prices to crabbers were still being negotiated, said Jake Jacobsen of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a trade group.

Fish shots

Can your fishing photos help promote Alaska seafood around the world? The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) is calling for images from Alaska fishing families and fans that showcase our people, scenery and seafood.

Winners will be selected by ASMI's Facebook "likes" in seven categories: Best Family or Kids, Old-school or Throwbacks, Fish, Scenic, Boat, Humor and Best Action. Top winners will receive an Apple iPad; an overall grand prize for fan favorite wins a trip for two anywhere Alaska Airlines flies.

ASMI hopes to use the photos in its marketing to provide an intimate glimpse of life in the Alaska seafood industry and to showcase the natural beauty of our state.

Deadline to enter is Feb. 2; winners will be announced Feb. 17. Get more info and upload submissions at http://photocontest.alaskaseafood.org or contact ASMI at photo@alaskaseafood.org or 800-478-2903.

Fish business tally

NOAA Fisheries plans to survey all U.S. seafood processors and bait-and-tackle shops during 2014. Responses from mail-in surveys will be used to measure the economic effects of these fishing businesses. According to notices in the Federal Register, more than 2,500 tackle shops and 2,000 seafood businesses will be surveyed.

Owners of tackle businesses will be asked to "characterize and quantify their operational costs and sales revenue, in addition to describing their clientele." Seafood processors will be asked for "plant characteristics, plant ownership, operating costs, capital costs, labor and revenue."

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state or found at alaskafishradio.com. Contact her at msfish@alaska.com.

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