Fish Factor: Halibut, sablefish and Tanner crab fisheries underway

Commercial Tanner crab season opens in PWS: The 2022 tanner crab fishery is officially underway in Area PKZ125 (Northeastern District, Prince William Sound). The F/V Lucid Dream, captained by Ezekiel Brown and crewed by Sean Den Adel, Mac Smith and Matt Honkola celebrate their bounty from their first pot pull around 11:30 a.m. on opening day, March 1, just outside of Cordova. From left, Sean Den Adel and Mac Smith. Photo courtesy of Matt Honkola

March means more fishing boats are out on the water with the start of the Pacific halibut and sablefish (black cod) fisheries on March 6, followed by Alaska’s first big herring fishery at Sitka Sound.

For halibut, the coastwide catch from waters ranging from the west coast states to British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea was increased by 5.7% this year to 41.22 million pounds.

Alaska always gets the lion’s share of the commercial halibut harvest, which for 2022 is 21.51 million pounds, a nearly 10% increase. Expectations for a good fishery are high and “rumors of opening dock prices around $8/lb. have folks very excited,” said Alaska Boats and Permits in its weekly Fish Ticket report from Homer.

The average dock price for Alaska halibut in 2021 was $6.40/lb.

Alaska fishermen also are seeing increased abundance of sablefish and the combined 2022 Gulf and Bering Sea catches were increased by 32% to 76 million pounds.

A herring spawn on kelp fishery opens on March 17 at Craig and Klawok with a harvest limit of 5,060 tons.

The roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound that typically kicks off in late March has the highest harvest level ever at 45,164 tons — 90.3 million pounds.

Shrimpers at Prince William Sound must register to drop pots by April 1 for the mid-April start of a fishery that could yield 66,900 pounds. 

A Tanner crab fishery kicked off on March 1 at Prince William Sound with a 61,800-pound catch limit. It could run through March 31 unless the quota is taken earlier.

The Tanner crab fishery at Southeast that began on Feb. 11 should be a wrap by March 9. No word yet on catches but managers reported “historically high crab levels” and the take should easily top last year’s 1.27-million-pound harvest. Crabbers have fingers crossed that the Southeast price will mirror Kodiak’s jaw-dropping $8.50/lb.

Southeast crabbers also can concurrently pull up golden king crabs with a harvest limit of 75,300 pounds, a nearly 24% increase from last year. The goldens weigh 5-8 pounds on average and last year averaged $11.55/lb at the docks.

Crabbers at Norton Sound are setting pots through the ice for 27,328 pounds of red king crab. Fewer than 10 permit holders will sell their catches locally as no buyers signed up due to concerns over the dwindling crab stock.

An ADF&G technician prepares to tag red king crab during the winter fishery at Norton Sound. Photo by Betsy Brennan/ADF&G

The Bering Sea snow crab fleet has pulled up about 70% of its 5.6-million-pound quota — about 4.3 million crab — down 88% from 2021. Yet bottom trawlers targeting flounders are allowed 5.99 million snow crabs as bycatch, equal to 7.8 million pounds.

Crabbers also have taken 68% of their 1-million-pound Bering Sea bairdi Tanner quota. The bycatch allowance for trawlers is 3.07 million animals topping six million pounds.

Boats also continue to fish for Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, where combined catches could top 3 billion pounds. Fishing also is ongoing for cod, rockfish, perch, flounder and many other species.

Finally, it’s hard to believe but fishery managers at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game will announce the catches for Alaska’s 2022 salmon fishery any day.

Names? Who knows

The state Board of Fisheries meeting is just days away, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy has yet to reveal who might fill a vacant seat on the seven-member panel.

The BOF will convene March 10-22 in Anchorage to address Southeast/Yakutat commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fishery management issues.

Dunleavy appointed Indy Walton of Soldotna to the BOF in September but he resigned in December due to health reasons. By law, the governor has 30 days to make another appointment.
Requests for information to Dunleavy’s office have gone unanswered.

The governor also is silent about his selections for two seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. By law, names must be forwarded to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce by March 15.

The terms of members Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, and Nicole Kimball, Vice-President of Pacific Seafood Processors Association, end on August 10. Both could be reappointed.

The NPFMC oversees management of over 140 fish/shellfish species within 47 stocks and stock complexes.

Wonders of fish ‘wastes’

Scottish researchers are turning salmon wastes into a key component in nylon.

Plastic experts from Impact Solutions have partnered with the University of Edinburgh, seafood producer Farne Salmon and the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) to use biological enzymes to extract the fatty components of fish waste. They are then turned into a mixture of adipic acid, a precursor to nylon.

Adipic acid also is used in a wide range of products including petrochemical and polyurethane-based items such as building insulation, furniture cushions, cosmetics, lubricants, pharmaceuticals, food additives and flavorings.

“This project marks the start of an exciting journey to find a sustainable alternative for a key component found in the fabric of our clothes. The initial feasibility study has led us to an exciting juncture where we can begin to see the potential of generating value from a material that would otherwise be discarded,” Impact Solutions Development Manager Simon Rathbone told SeafoodSource news.

The researchers want to maximize the value of the process by looking at other components that can be extracted from fish wastes, such as fatty acids and fish oils.

“Our waste streams have been a major focus in recent years and wherever possible we have found routes to divert them to businesses who have the foresight and technology to utilize them as raw materials for further processing,” the team added.

The researchers noted that over 1 billion pounds of waste is created annually by the U.K processing industry. In Alaska, the wasted skins, heads, oils and other fish parts top 3 billion pounds and could add over $700 million to the state’s revenue stream, according to a report on“specialty products” by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at shorn@gci.net.