The giant Pacific octopus probably won't shut down the pot cod season early again this year in the Bering Sea.
Last year, the bycatch limit of 150 octopus was reached on Oct. 24, and the big boat Pacific pot cod fishery closed with 647 metric tons unharvested, according to Krista Milani of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Unalaska.
This year's limit is way higher, at 900 of any eight species of octopus, though the giant Pacific with an average weight of 30 to 40 pounds is most commonly caught by fishermen, said Liz Conners of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle.
Last year was the first time octopus had an individual bycatch quota, previously they were lumped in with other species, and regulators settled on 150 based on incidental catch figures for the Bering Sea based on the highest year of octopus bycatch in an 11 year period.
"We knew that was a low number, but we didn't have any better data," said Liz Conners.
A more generous allowance was set for this year, based on octopus parts found in cod stomachs, Conners said.
Conners said much is unknown about octopus populations, and credited marine agent Reid Brewer in Unalaska with adding new knowledge.
While octopus is commercially harvested off of Japan, Morocco and Spain, no directed commercial fishery is allowed in federal waters in the U.S., though states can permit it three miles from shore. Occasional efforts have been made by domestic fishermen, though with limited profitability, Conners said.
The Moroccan and Spanish octopus are smaller, though the Japanese octopus are the same as Alaska's, she said.
As for the pot cod fishery, Milani said 566 metric tons were harvested in the week ending Sept. 22, and 7,373 mt remain in the fishery that closes on Dec. 31. She said 14 boats over 60 feet long were signed up to catch cod in pots.
Processors were paying around 30 cents a pound for pot-caught cod, using the same big pots as in the commercial crab fisheries.
The Bristol Bay red king crab quota was expected to be set this week. Last year's quota was 7.834 million pounds, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Jim Paulin can be reached at paulinjim(at)yahoo.com