Welch: Bering Sea crab fisheries set to open

Laine Welch

October is National Seafood Month -- and also marks the start of one of the busiest months for Alaska's fishing industry.

The state's biggest crab fisheries get under way in the Bering Sea on Oct. 15. The Bristol Bay red king crab catch will hold steady at 7.8 million pounds, while the snow crab harvest has dipped to 66.3 million pounds, down from about 80 million pounds last season. The St. Matthew Island blue king crab fishery is also down a bit to 1.6 million pounds.

Hundreds of divers in Southeast Alaska are plying the depths for 1.5 million pounds of sea cucumbers, 3.2 million pounds of sea urchins and more than a half-million pounds of giant geoduck clams. A few dozen divers also target sea cucumbers and urchins in smaller fisheries at Kodiak, Chignik, the Alaska Peninsula and the Bering Sea (175,000 pounds of cukes and 80,000 pounds of urchins.)

Fishing for big spot shrimp also opens in October throughout Southeast with a catch of just more than a half-million pounds. Also in Southeast, the Dungeness crab fishery reopened on Oct. 1, and trollers will be back out fishing for king salmon starting on the 11th.

Elsewhere, fishermen in the Gulf and Bering Sea continue fishing for pollock, cod, halibut, sablefish and other groundfish. The halibut and sablefish fisheries close on Nov. 7 and will reopen in early March.

Fishing for fuel savings

Diesel fuel is $5.27 a gallon in Kodiak. Fishing boats elsewhere face similar or even higher costs. Fishermen could soon find some relief from a state-backed project that aims to reduce fuel needs for fishing vessels.

"Fuel costs can really affect the bottom line for a fisherman when you're skimming off 30percent to 40 percent of your annual income for diesel fuel," said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which received $250,000 from the state to launch a three-year energy audit pilot project beginning next spring. The foundation will partner with Sea Grant marine advisory agent Terry Johnson in Homer to design and implement the project.

The program will begin by obtaining baseline information on fuel usage by vessels of all sizes. It will then test various fuel additives, hydrogen generators and other new technologies aimed at saving fuel and increasing efficiency by up to 20 percent.

AFDF is seeking industry stakeholders to serve on a steering committee, as well as vessel owners who would like to have an energy audit of their boats. Anyone interested can contact the foundation in Anchorage at (907) 276-7315 or afdf.org.

Expo shift

Football has delayed this year's Pacific Marine Expo until after Thanksgiving.

"The show dates rely on the Seattle Seahawks football schedule at Centurylink Field," explained Expo director Bob Callahan. "This year there was a bit of a wild card -- the Washington State Huskies are renovating their football stadium so they took up a few weekends in November at the field. So between the Seahawks and the Huskies we had to move our dates."

The new dates are, Nov. 27 through Nov. 29.

The response has been "surprisingly positive," Callahan said. Early registrations are up by more than 600 people over this time last year.

Expo has been the West Coast's largest marine industry trade event for 46 years; it attracts more than 400 companies and nearly 9,000 visitors.

"The show has been growing each year by about 10 percent and we are 4,000 square feet and 40 booths ahead of last year. We are actually in the running for one of the fastest-growing shows in the country for its size," Callahan said.

See the complete lineup at pacificmarineexpo.com.

Chinook salmon meetings

The Department of Fish and Game has scheduled a scientific symposium from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 22 and 23 at the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage.

"The symposium will feature scientific presentations and panel discussions from a wide variety of experts from private, state, federal and academic backgrounds. The goal is to discuss gaps in knowledge of chinook salmon abundance and productivity, and assemble a targeted list of research priorities to fill these gaps. More details about this event will be forthcoming in the first weeks of October," the department said.

Board of Fish begins

The state Board of Fisheries meets in a work session on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Egan Center in Anchorage. This session will focus on Bristol Bay, Arctic-Yukon- Kuskowkim and Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands fisheries.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaska.com.

Laine welch