Fisheries group researches impoundment

Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2003

Alaska fishermen may be able to make more money off their catches if they hold the fish live for a while before selling.

The practice is known as impoundment and the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation is researching it with help from a federal grant.

"We're doing research into whether impoundment would work in fisheries here," said AFDF Deputy Director Tim Sullivan. "Essentially it's catching fish and holding them, a live impoundment until the market is higher to sell them."

AFDF is a 25-year-old fisheries research and development group.

Sullivan said the practice is in use in Australia, where it extends the length of the fishery.

"Instead of everyone trying to fish in a two-month period, they have 10 months in which to gather their quota. It makes the season much longer and economically beneficial to everybody," he said.

Sullivan said the organization doesn't know whether live impoundment would work in Alaska, or what kinds of fish it would work for. The study aims to answer those questions.

Bruce Schactler, president of the United Salmon Association, said some fishermen already hold live fish until they are ready to freeze or process them for quality purposes. The sooner fish are frozen after they are killed, the higher the quality of the final product.

Holding a fish live in the water for a few days doesn't pose a problem, but it might not be feasible to hang onto a live salmon much longer, Schactler said.

"We're talking about something that's going to be dead in three weeks anyway. Keeping it for a few days is one thing, but trying to keep it for a month, biologically that ain't gonna happen. The amount of time you can keep them in the pen; that will be an interesting experiment for AFDF," he said.

Doug Mecum, director of the state Department of Fish and Game's Commercial Fisheries Division, said impoundment has been discussed in the past. But he said some forms of impoundment come dangerously close to fish farming, which is illegal in Alaska.

Some fishermen submitted a proposal to the Board of Fish last year asking to bring fish into an impoundment and feed them to increase their size before selling, Mecum said. The board rejected that proposal.

"We had biological concerns about that proposal. Anytime you capture fish and put them in an impoundment, put them in closely crowded conditions for extended periods of time, you run the risk of a disease outbreak," Mecum said.

Those are the same concerns that Alaska fisheries biologists have about fish farms.

"When you start talking about (holding fish for) extended periods of time, particularly if you're talking about feeding the fish, that is fish farming and that's not legal," Mecum said.

Mecum said the research into the topic is welcome.

"We would want to make sure that if these kinds of things ever occurred, they were authorized by the Legislature or the board, and that adequate safeguards and restrictions were put in place to avoid disease transmission," he said.

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