Council sets groundfish quotas and advances crab issues

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2001

ANCHORAGE - A federal fisheries council Monday cut the 2002 harvest of groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska, but kept on an even keel on the allowable catch for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

"It's kind of a mixed bag, with some stocks up and some down," said Tom Pearson, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Kodiak. "In the Bering Sea, favorable environmental conditions have led to a large pollock biomass. Cod is also up."

The Gulf of Alaska fared less well, prompting the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to vote for a total allowable catch of 237,880 metric tons of all species of groundfish in the gulf, down from 554,710 metric tons a year ago. The overall 2001 groundfish harvest in the gulf came to 181,400 metric tons.

The pollock harvest limit dropped to 58,250 metric tons, compared to 95,875 metric tons in 2001, when fishermen actually caught 70,416 metric tons. Pacific cod stocks in the gulf also are down. The council lowered the allowable catch to 44,230 metric tons, down from 52,110 metric tons last year when fishermen harvested a total of 41,085 metric tons.

For the Bering Sea, the actual allowable catch remains at a maximum of 2 million metric tons with percentages of pollock and Pacific cod raised because of healthier stocks.

The council also moved forward on a complex plan, known as crab rationalization, for sharing the lucrative crab fisheries.

"The crab fleet is on the ropes," said Clem Tillion, who was charged with fisheries policies under the administrations of former Alaska governors Walter Hickel and Jay Hammond. "Half of them will go bankrupt if they don't have a buyout."

The council and industry are wrestling with how to divide up crab stocks. Under consideration are individual fishing quotas, individual processing quotas and cooperatives.

Processor quota shares are a particularly controversial issue.

In the past, under derby-style openings, the halibut harvest came in so fast fishermen had to take whatever price was offered by processors.

"When we passed the individual transferable quotas (for halibut and black cod fishermen), it was very hard on big buyers who bought all the halibut previously," Tillion said.

Once the fishermen got individual quota shares, they could choose when they wanted to fish and processors no longer had control of the price, Tillion said.

"Now the fishermen could sell to any buyer. The price tripled for the fishermen, but for the big processors, it was a disaster. The processors don't want that to happen in crab," he said.

The council will hear testimony on crab issues at its February meeting in Anchorage, and is expected to take final action in April.

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