Laine Welch: Seiner pollock fishery debuts in Gulf

Laine Welch

Kodiak seiners will be scooping up pollock starting this week.

You heard right. Seiners have a chance to test the waters to determine if a directed pollock fishery makes sense for that type of gear in the Gulf.

Except for a small jig fishery, the only pollock fishery operating in state waters (shore to three miles) is at Prince William Sound, where trawlers this year have an 8.5 million-pound catch.

"The initial seine opportunity will just run from April 11 through June 8 so we don't overlap with salmon season. And during that time the harvest will be limited to 500,000 pounds," said Trent Hartill, a groundfish manager at the Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. A pollock weighs 3 to 4 pounds on average.

The proposal for the trial pollock fishery got the nod in January from the state Board of Fisheries to operate under a special "commissioner's permit," Hartill said.

"The purpose of that permit is to test the efficacy of seine gear in catching pollock," he explained. "If it's successful, it will provide information for the board to determine whether they want to pursue a full-blown fishery or move in whatever direction they desire."

Roughly 190 salmon seiners operate out of Kodiak. Hartill said there is lots of interest there in giving pollock a try. The dock price in town is 12 to 14 cents a pound.

Fish news

Lots of fish news this week from one end of the state to the other. It's status quo for the Board of Fisheries: Gov. Sean Parnell reappointed John Jensen of Petersburg, Susan Jeffrey of Kodiak and Reed Morisky of Fairbanks to three-year terms that begin July 1. No grumblings over those choices, which are expected to be easily confirmed by the Legislature on April 11.

Alaska lawmakers reined in a misuse of dude licenses, originally intended to let tourists experience a day in the life of a fisherman. Over time, salmon permit holders, primarily at Bristol Bay, were buying consecutive seven-day licenses for $30, half the cost of seasonal crew licenses. In 2005, when the program began, 47 dude licenses were sold; that number jumped to 1,344 in 2012. The estimated lost revenue to the state is more than $285,000. The new law will limit crew to one temporary license a year. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer.

Back to the Bay

Sue Aspelund will leave her job as deputy director of Fish and Game's Commercial Fisheries Division to take the helm as director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, operated and funded by more than 1,850 salmon driftnetters. From 1998 to 2003, Aspelund served as director of Cordova District Fishermen United, which represents Copper River and Prince William Sound harvesters. Her new role will be a sort of homecoming -- from 1980 to 2003 Aspelund owned and operated a salmon setnet operation on the Naknek River.

Fishing break

Fishermen way out west got a break when NOAA Fisheries changed course and agreed to relax some restrictions in the western and central Aleutian Islands aimed at protecting the food and habitat of Steller sea lions. The Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries have been closed in those regions for three years, at a loss to the industry of $65 million a year. The agency estimates the proposed fishery management changes would relieve roughly two-thirds of the economic burden imposed on Aleutian Islands' fishermen by sea lion protection measures that took effect in 2011. New regulations should be set by next January.

NOAA Fisheries also decreed last week that a listing of the Southeast Alaska herring population near Lynn Canal does not warrant an endangered species listing. The Juneau Group of the Sierra Club petitioned NOAA to list that stock in 2007.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at

Laine Welch