Kodiak area pollock fishery reported to be slow going this year

Posted: Tuesday, October 10, 2000

KODIAK (AP) -- The October pollock season in the Kodiak area is going pretty much as predicted -- slow mixed with frequent periods of fish-stopping storms.

The season opened Oct. 1, but dockside landings and the fishing effort are down dramatically from previous years with the trawl fleet limited to fishing grounds 20 miles offshore in efforts to protect Steller sea lion habitat.

Just 48 vessels are fishing this year compared with the 112 that worked the area in 1999, said Julie Bonney, Alaska Groundfish Data Bank executive assistant.

''We're tied up here now 'til the weather gets better,'' said Paddy O'Donnell, skipper on the Topaz. ''If the inside 20 (miles) was open, we could fish some sheltered water. But offshore in 30-knot (winds), it gets too dangerous for the crew.

''At 7 1/2 cents (per pound for pollock) and the price of fuel at $1.45 (a gallon), we grossed $19,000 and paid $4,500 in fuel.''

After paying the boat owner his share, the crew will make only minimum wage for the trip, O'Donnell told the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

The National Marine Fisheries Service says about 1,000 tons of the Kodiak area's 5,000-ton quota has been harvested so far. No landings have been made from the Chirikof area, which has a 6,800-pound quota. And less than 1,000 tons of pollock have been taken from the Shumagin area's 11,500-pound quota.

''It's definitely slower and I think that can be directly attributed to (fishing outside endangered Steller sea lion) critical habitat,'' said Tom Pearson, National Marine Fisheries Service groundfish management biologist.

''Fish are definitely abundant in the critical habitat, but the fleet has been displaced where there aren't the concentrations,'' Pearson said. ''It's quite likely the quota will not be reached by the Nov. 1 closure.''

Steve Drage, owner of the trawler Coho, described the situation in one word: ''Terrible.''

''Ninety-five of the biomass is inside 20-mile rings,'' Drage said.

Fishing pollock in the Bering Sea is different, he said. There, the fishing grounds are flat so the pollock are spread more evenly. But 20 miles off Kodiak, the pollock aren't as evenly distributed because the bottom drops off in places.

''We work these little pockets of fish along the shelf near an upwelling, but they don't move into the area again,'' Drage said.

Bringing a trawl-net of fish onboard 20 miles offshore is riskier than fishing closer in, Drage and Icy Mist owner Bob Gunderson said.

It takes about 1 1/2 hours to bring a trawl net onboard, a risky situation with a big bag of fish in rough weather, they said.

''You can tow a heavy bag inshore (in calmer waters) and deal with it. But getting too much water and then get part of the net on board -- it's a balancing act.''

Gunderson made one trip, but said he won't go out again.

''That's that. It's only a matter of time before a boat goes down.''

Boats opting not to fish the October pollock season because of the weather is par for the course this year, said Jim Major, assistant plant manager at Alaska Pacific Seafoods.

''We had seven (pollock) boats, but because of their (small) size, now our fleet was reduced to four,'' Major said. ''And two of the four boats already quit.''

Fish processing plants may lose experienced crews, who may not return after the holidays if they think they won't have work, Major said.

O'Donnell also is having second thoughts about fishing.

''If this thing (the trawl closure inside Steller sea lion critical habitat) doesn't change, I'll move back to Ireland.''

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