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Fish Factor

Alaska will see a reduced take of Pacific halibut
By Laine Welch


January 22, 2007

Pacific halibut will make it to market a bit later this year, there will be less of it, and bag limits will cut charter boat catches by half.

U.S. and Canadian halibut managers announced at their annual meeting last Friday that the commercial halibut fishery will begin on March 10th, five days later than last year. They approved a coast-wide catch - meaning for California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska - of 65.1 million pounds, a drop of nearly 4.7 million pounds. Alaska always gets the lion's share of the catch, but it will also see a reduced take to 52.36 million pounds, down about three million pounds from the 2006 limit.

Some highlights: Fishermen in Southeast Alaska got a bit of a break with a catch of 8.5 million pounds. That's still a drop of two million pounds, but not the 30 percent reduction that had been recommended earlier.

For Area 3A, the Central Gulf, the halibut catch was boosted by one million pounds to 26.2 million pounds. Area 3A, the Western Gulf, took the biggest hit with a catch set at 9.2 million pounds, a drop of 3.6 million pounds from last year.

Halibut charter boat operators were crying foul over the panel's decision to cut client bag limits from two to one fish per day for part of the summer in Southeast and South Central regions. Charter operators have exceeded their sports halibut catches by nearly 50 percent in Southeast, and by nine percent in the Central Gulf of Alaska.

Unless federal regulators (via the North Pacific Council) take no restrictive action prior to June, a bag limit of one halibut per day will be in place during June and July for Southeast charter operators, and one fish per day during June in the Central Gulf. Some operators are vowing to sue or fight to stop the cut to their daily sport catches.

Back to the commercial halibut fishery - a coast-wide drop of nearly five million pounds drop will likely keep prices high. Last year halibut prices started off well over $3/lb in major ports (sometimes topping $4/lb), and stayed there until the fishery closed in mid-November. Roughly 2,500 Alaska longliners are lucky enough to hold halibut quota shares. The dockside (ex-vessel) value of the 2006 Alaska halibut fishery topped $193 million, up $25 million dollars from 2005.

gif Alaska Catch graph

The International Pacific Halibut Commission, originally called the International Fisheries Commission, was established in 1923 by a Convention between the governments of Canada and the U.S. The IPHC is charged with research and management of the stocks of Pacific halibut within the waters of both nations. (

Tanners tick up

Kodiak Tanner crab fishermen are getting higher prices for a reduced catch this year. The mid-January fishery attracted a fleet of 53 boats, which will compete for just 800,000 pounds of bairdi Tanners, down from two million last year. Bairdi are the larger cousin of the more popular "opies" (opilio Tanner), or snow crab.

Local bairdi crab stocks have been slowly rebounding in recent years, and with that has come renewed market interest.

"It's been tough to rebuild that market," said Matt Moir, general manager of Alaska Pacific Seafoods. "It's kind of it's own little thing. With no bairdi markets for the last couple years, it's fallen into a category of jumbo opilio. But we're trying to turn that around."

"The last couple of years have been pretty tough on the Alaska crab market, but we're encouraged this year. Hopefully, we'll get good quality crab and things will be significantly better than the last couple of years," Moir added. The advance price to fishermen was $1.75/lb, up from $1.40 in 2006.

Kodiak crab managers also are encouraged about the outlook for the local bairdi crab stocks. "We see another very strong pulse of smaller crab throughout the island and it's much wider spread. So it's very promising for future fisheries, probably three years down the road," said state management biologist Nick Sagalkin.

Prevent rats

U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents are hoping to find a lot of takers for free rat prevention kits being offered to all Alaska mariners. Their hope is to stop the rodents from getting ashore where they damage property, spread disease and kill wildlife.

On fishing boats, rats are notorious for chewing through wiring or nets. The rodents readily jump ship when a vessel ties up at a port.

"They can swim like crazy," said Becky Beaty, a formed Kodiak harbor officer.

Besides causing damage on fishing boats, rats are voracious predators on bird eggs. The USF&W estimates that most of the more than 40 million breeding seabirds in Alaska, about half of all seabirds in North America, nest on islands throughout Alaska.

Fleas from rats also can carry diseases - perhaps most famously, the Black Plague that spread through Europe in the 14th century and killed millions. The fleas arrived there via rats riding aboard Southeast Asia spice trade boats.

A female rat can breed from the age of three months, and produce new litters of up to nine babies every three weeks. Two rats can equal 15,000 rats in one year. While it is impossible to get rid of rats, the USF&WS believes stopping them from getting ashore is a key to keeping the population under control.

Rat prevention kits made available to mariners in the past weren't too successful. "It was like talking about sexually transmitted diseases; nobody wanted to admit to having a problem," one Alaska harbormaster told the Alaska Journal of Commerce. Get more information at .


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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