Kotzebue fishery starts strong
Expanded fishing windows make search for salmon easier
Fishermen in the Kotzebue Sound region may well feel like Christmas came in July this summer. Mainly because the commercial salmon fishery in the area has been producing above-average returns thus far.
The Kotzebue Sound fishery opened last week with several 8-hour windows for harvest chum salmon. Officials with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game expect more than 250,000 chum to be collected during the harvest, which was created when Great Pacific Seafood notified the state it planned to purchase salmon from the Kotzebue Sound in 2012.
One thing is for certain, fishermen in the Kotzebue region aren't complaining.
"Compared to last year, we doing really well," said Sally McClellan, a retired school teacher who has fished in the area for more than two decades. "It has been a very healthy start to the season."
Through Monday, the ADF&G had held authorized four fishing "windows." The latest fishing "window" yielded more than 4,233 fish — more than 1,000 more than the same period a year ago. Local anglers opened the season on July 10-11 by hauling in approximately 1,500 fish in a period that ran from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.
McClellan said 25 boats have participated in the early portion of the openings, and that the increased numbers could be because the state is allowing longer fishing periods than in the past few years.
"It makes it easier for the fishermen," she said. "Before, you only had a few hours so you didn't have the time to move around. You pretty much had to take what you got in whatever spot you chose. Now, fishermen have a little more time to move to another spot if they aren't catching anything."
"We are glad to see that," she said.
Currently, fishermen are receiving 32 cents per pound for the chum salmon catch. That price is 8 cents lower than last year, but it doesn't have area fishermen too disappointed.
"The longer fishing period has allowed us to catch more fish," said McClellan. "We have a lower price, but we can catch more fish. I don't think anyone is complaining about that. We'll take that," she said.
As for the Kotzebue Sound commercial fishery, a total of 25 boats participated in the latest fishing window in the Kotzebue Sound.
That number could go higher, McClellan said, as the commercial salmon season continues.
"The number of boats will increase near the end of July and first part of August," she said.
A year ago, approximately 55 boats participated in the fisher on July 29 and Aug.
Seth Kantner, who fishes for Maniilaq LLC's commercial operation, agreed that the salmon runs appeared to be stronger this year.
"From what I have heard, it's going really well," said Kantner, a longtime fisherman, who is fishing on a much smaller scale to help develop Maniilaq's higher-end salmon market.
As part of Maniilaq LLC's operation, Kantner said he and his crew catches and prepares each salmon independently as opposed to bulk fishing. That process, Maniilaq LLC officials feel, will eventually lead to a high-end market from salmon products, and an additional revenue source for the region.
Currently, Kantner's fish are bled, put on ice much like troll-caught salmon and shipped to Kodiak for processing before being shipped to Maniilaq customers.
ADF&G officials said in a release that the chum may be running later than normal this year, and that the late run could affect the buyer's ability to handle the salmon catch volume during the peak weeks.