Story last updated at 10/7/2009 - 11:37 am
After the summer salmon season wraps up, Alaska's fishing industry begins a big line up of fall fisheries that can last through the winter.
Starting Oct. 1, the fall Dungeness crab season opens in Southeast Alaska for roughly 200 crabbers, along with several shrimp fisheries. Nearly 200 divers also begin heading down to the icy depths to handpick pricey sea cucumbers, urchins and giant geoduck clams (called gooey-ducks). Geoducks average three pounds but can weigh up to 10 pounds. Their name is derived from a Nisqually Indian term meaning "dig deep."
Southeast divers will compete for 600,000 pounds of geoducks, 1.5 million pounds of sea cukes, and 5 million pounds of red sea urchins in the coming months. A small sea cucumber fishery (140,000 pounds) also occurs around Kodiak Island. Dive fisheries of 5,000 pounds of cukes also occur at Chignik and along the Alaska Peninsula. Sea cucumbers fetch about $2.50 a pound for divers, geoduck clams get $3.50-$3.90/ lb (if they are live, $1/lb if processed); red urchins average about 35 cents a pound. Nearly all go to Asian markets.
Also in October: Southeast trollers will be back out on the water on Oct. 11 targeting winter kings. Alaska's biggest crab fisheries get underway in the Bering Sea on Oct. 15. At the same time, sablefish and halibut fisheries are ongoing until mid-November. Fishing for cod, pollock, flounders, and many other species also continues throughout the year.
Holding true to a precautionary course in fishery oversight, managers have reduced the 2009/2010 catches for Alaska's largest crab fisheries in the Bering Sea.
ADF&G announced last week that the quota for snow crab will be cut to 48 million pounds, an 18 percent decrease from recent years. Still, stakeholders breathed a sigh of relief - they had feared a far lower snow crab catch to help speed up a stock rebuilding plan.
A bigger surprise is the sizeable cut to red king crab at Bristol Bay. Discussions for months had largely suggested the catch could remain status quo at 20 million pounds. Instead, the red king crab catch was reduced to just 16 million pounds, a decrease of 21.4 percent. The Tanner crab take also was reduced to 1.3 million pounds, taken from the eastern region only. Fishery managers said the lower catch quotas also account for the estimated numbers of crab taken as bycatch and accidental mortality rates.
For the first time in a decade, a blue king crab fishery will open way out west at St. Matthew Island, with a catch guideline of just over one million pounds. The Bering Sea crab fisheries get underway Oct. 15.
Crabbers in Southeast were disappointed again by the cancellation of the November red king crab fishery. That fishery has been closed since 1991, and managers claim the number of male crabs is at its lowest level in 16 years. Crabbers, on the other hand, question the validity of the surveys, and believe they are not a complete indication of the health of the crab stocks.
Looking at crab markets
Less king crab all around could boost prices across the board - the Dungeness market is reportedly clamoring for crab, and Alaska will be competing for shelf space with bigger west coast fisheries. For snow crab, the market is aid to be well stocked, with lots of crab still available from Canada.
Better Bay pay day
Bristol Bay salmon fishermen can expect a better payday, according to the 2009 season summary just released by state managers.
The sockeye run to Bristol Bay this summer of 40.4 million fish yielded a catch of 31 million red salmon - the seventh best sockeye harvest since statehood. At an average price of 70 cents a pound, and an average fish weight of about six pounds, the preliminary value of the Bristol Bay sockeye catch rings in at nearly $127.6 million at the docks - an increase of $16 million over last year. It's likely to go higher after processors pay out bonuses based on salmon sales.(http://www.cf.adfg.state.ak.us/region2//finfish/salmon/bbay/brbpos09.pdf.)
Alaska's salmon fisheries occur all over the state, so why does Bristol Bay get so much attention? The answer can be summed up in two words: sockeye salmon.
Bristol Bay is home to the world's biggest run of reds, making it Alaska's most valuable salmon fishery. Sockeye are the big money fish - more than one third of the value of Alaska's total salmon catch. Bristol Bay also has the most salmon fishermen, with over 2,800 drift gillnet and setnet permit holders.
Alaska's total sockeye catch for 2009 is pegged at 42 million fish - 31 million from Bristol Bay; 4 million from the Alaska Peninsula; 2.3 million from Cook Inlet, 1.8 million at Prince William Sound, 1.7 million at Kodiak, less than one million throughout Southeast, and just a few hundred thousand sockeye salmon are caught each year in fisheries in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region.
Fish for the hungry
American Seafoods Group was recognized last week for reaching the milestone of donating 10 million seafood meals to hungry Americans. The donations go to SeaShare, which since 1994 has worked with the seafood industry to provide over 130 million seafood meals to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens across the U.S. The non-profit SeaShare is now one of the largest sources of protein for hunger relief in the nation. Learn more about the program at http://www.seashare.org.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around Alaska. Welch lives in Kodiak.