Pollock Fleet Waits for Pace to Pick Up

Friday, June 22 2012

Pollock B season is now two weeks in, but fishermen and plant managers are still trying to get a sense of how lucrative this summer will be.

Vessels made scouting trips from Unimak Pass to the Pribilof Islands during the first week, and landed about 46,417 metric tons of pollock in the process. They have 720,000 metric tons available to harvest for the season.

Paolo de Cruz works on the F/V Arctic Wind, and he has a mixed report on the season's start. He says that the competition for fish isn't intense, since the fleet isn't yet at full capacity, and that the pollock that boats are catching is good-sized. But he’s says that boats are still having to expend more effort than they would like to get that fish.

"It’s still slow out there," says de Cruz. "We’ve been going out northwest, which is a long haul, but fish is still scattered all over the place and it’s still not really schooled up.""

What fishermen don’t want is a repeat of last year’s B season, when a mix of slow fishing and salmon bycatch problems left fishermen struggling to take their full allocation by the closing date. Right now, the hope is that a record ice extent is affecting pollock dispersal patterns and that fishing will speed up in July.

Sylvia Ettefagh manages the Unalaska Fleet Cooperative, a group of boats that delivers their catch to Alyeska Seafoods. She says that the cold water could be causing phytoplankton to bloom later and changing the feeding patterns of the fish. She says that it won’t really be clear how productive the season will be for another two weeks.

"Anybody who takes a big ‘woe is me, everything’s bad attitude right now’ is probably jumping the gun a little bit," say Ettefagh.

While fishing isn’t yet outpacing last year, it is shaping up to be cleaner. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, just over 500 chum salmon were taken through the first week of B season compared to nearly 25,000 chum last year. Chinook salmon bycatch is slightly higher than in 2011, with the fleet taking about 8,000 kings so far this year -- a number that includes the A season total.

The Bering Sea pollock fishery is the nation’s largest, and much of that fish is processed in Unalaska. The projected value of the B season quota is approximately $200 million, and the city stands to generate about $1 million of that in revenue from the raw fish tax.

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to the year's Chinook mortality rate as being the B season mortality rate.

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