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Halibut survival is focus of AK sport fish operators

Fish Radio

Halibut survival is focus of Alaska sport fish operators

March 31, 2016

Every Halibut Counts! SE sport fishermen spawn gentle release project

Every Halibut Counts!
SE sport fishermen spawn gentle release project

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch. Every halibut counts. More on saving each fish after this . . .

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Finding ways to gently release halibut back into the water is the goal of collaboration by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Alaska Sea Grant and the Southeast charter industry. Together they’ve developed new ideas, technologies, and management strategies to better protect sport caught halibut..

 “The operators have been aware that there is a small, but consequential issue concerning the survival of the sport-caught halibut.”

Terry Johnson is with Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Program. He says it was Southeast Charter boat captains who asked for the help.

 They came to us and said, “We want to do something about this, we want to raise the consciousness within the industry about the importance of getting these fish back in the water alive and healthy.” 

With local knowledge and scientific expertise the project leaders are coming up with safe handling techniques sport fishermen can use with their halibut catches.

  The people who are advising us and providing the direction on the best practices are themselves charter boat operators, so we have asked them what they think is the best thing to do and then that is the information we will disseminate to the public.

They use  posters and print materials as well as a video and some training on gentle handling. Johnson says the best tool is, “to think like a fish.”

“Think about the interaction with a fish that you’re going to release from the fish’s point of view and  basically try not to hurt it. And that means at all possible try and release it while it is still in the water use proper tackle that minimizes injury, and then placing them back in the water not flinging them like a Frisbee. It’s a gentle release; it’s not throw them back.”    

Though it is hard to determine the mortality in sport-caught halibut, the charter boat industry would like to see it be as low as possible due to increased catch and release happening on deck.

“You know I think everyone thinks that some fish will be saved. And it is actually kind of surprising how many fish charter boats catch and release. Many boats are catching 4, 6,8,10 fish and releasing them for every one they retain.”

The goal of this project is to continue to protect the stock for all users as well as sustaining fishermen.

“We hope that recreational anglers on their own boats will see the tour operators as role models and guides in this process and will adopt the same methods that the charter operators do.”


Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, Fish and Game Commissioner Cotten and new commercial fisheries director Scott Kelly will be at ComFish in Kodiak starting today through Saturday.

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods.  Ocean Beauty has contributed over 10 million meals to the U.S. Food Bank network, and is committed to ending hunger in America.  In Kodiak I’m Laine Welch.   

Small fish, fast spawn at Sitka Sound make for herring shortfall


Small fish, active spawning close down Sitka’s sac roe harvest

ADF&G biologist Dave Gordon gave seiners the news Monday afternoon (3-28-16).

He says rapid spawning and smaller-than-usual fish combined to bring the fishery up short this season.

“You know the market likes larger fish, the bigger the better as far as sac roe herring goes. And with this smaller mix of fish, we knew we might find it difficult to prosecute the entire fishery.”

Seiners target herring just prior to spawning, when the eggs — or roe — are still in skeins inside the females. The sac roe is marketed as a delicacy in Asia.

Gordon says the department knew that this year would probably be dominated by large numbers of smaller fish. Last year, biologists found a high percentage of three-year-olds in the Sitka Sound herring stock — the first year that they reach sexual maturity. Gordon says that’s good news for the future, but for this season it meant that there were a lot of four-year-olds around.

“We did get one opening in — the second opening — where we did manage to find some larger average weight sizes to harvest. And the quality of the fish during that opening was very good. But from there it was downhill.”

Gordon does not second-guess himself much, but he does wonder if he waited a day too long between the second and third openings. There are 48 seine boats in the fishery, about half as many tenders, and maybe a dozen aircraft. Still, with all these resources, there is a limit to how many herring can be taken in a day — around 4,500 tons, or about one-third of this year’s total catch limit.

It’s a tricky fishery to pull off.

“One of the most difficult things about managing the sac roe fishery is that you have this very narrow window of time to harvest good quality herring when they’re ripe, mature, to when they spawn. But on top of that you’ve got limited capacity to handle the fish. You can’t just go and harvest as much fish as you can — you know, harvest the quota at one time. You’ve got to take it in pieces because there’s only so much tendering capacity and processing capacity.”

Sac roe seiners harvested 10,050 tons in three openings, but fell 4,690 tons short of their harvest goal this season. They experienced similar early closures in 2012 and 2013.
With the closure of sac roe herring in Sitka, ADF&G now turns its attention to other herring fisheries, like the roe-on-kelp pound fisheries in Hoonah Sound and Tenakee Inlet — both of which have had poor or closed seasons recently.

On the upside, the herring spawn — which contributed to the early end of commercial fishing — has been strong in Sitka Sound, with 42 nautical miles of shoreline mapped as of Saturday.