On this week’s Alaska Fisheries Report with Terry Haines: A Kodiak crab boat readies for the upcoming season. Plus Joe Viechnicki reports on the change of venue for the Board of Fish.
Crab and Kodiak
Crab and Kodiak are inextricably linked. It’s been said that Kodiak is the birthplace of the modern crab fishery. And every year in late May, Kodiak has a Crab Festival. It features live local music, an art show, rides, and a parade, as well as favorite local foods, including barbecued pork on a stick, Salvadoran papusas, and a doughy deep fried creation called a Bruin Burger. The festivities are many. Yes, the Kodiak Crab Festival has everything a Crab Festival could ask for except for…crab.
It was once called the King Crab Festival. It started in 1958 with an eye to marketing a new American fishery, Alaskan Red King Crab. After the precipitous decline of king crab in the Gulf of Alaska, the festival dropped the “King”, and it became the Crab Festival, as fishermen turned their attention to the spidery Bairdi crab. Since the crash of that species, the crab in the “Crab” Festival has mostly been frozen deep sea brown crab brought in from the far Aleutians, if any.
But this year the bairdi fishery is opens again on January 15th, and Kodiak crabbers are carefully rigging the 20 pots allowed to them. On the storied Kodiak boat Irene H, the crew are changing lines and snipping zip ties as they tune up the gear.
They are changing out the “tanner boards” that restrict the tunnels of the pots. The “tunnels” are the web covered ramps that lead the crab into the pot, but are impossible to climb back out through once the crab drops inside. The tanner boards narrow the tunnels so the dinner plate shaped bairdi are the pot’s most likely victim. Next they tie the new shots of line they cut the day before to the bridle and the buoys to the lines. Everything goes inside the pot and they stack it on deck while the eagles sing in the background.
The next day it’s off to the cannery to load bait. This is done with the boat’s crane and what are called “flying forks”. Flying forks are the invention of a mad genius. They are essentially fork lift forks at the end of a crane that can be slid under a heavy load so it can be lifted quickly and insanely.
The crew loads tall stacks of boxed of herring, big metal baskets full of bags of pollock and plastic totes of halibut heads saved from last year’s longline season. Fork trucks skillfully maneuver around the icy dock as the dock workers slide to the side at the last second like matadors, then push the flying forks under the thousand pound totes of bait.
Boats only come to a dock for two reasons. To take things off, and to load things on. It’s a part of the job I miss. There is something very satisfying and primal about moving big things around with flying forks and four way straps.
And there is something compellingly primal about crabbing. The act of pushing 700 pound pots around on deck, the satisfying sound of the steel bars clapping against each other, and the feel of a tight clove hitch. It is industrial strength hunting and gathering. May it never fade from this earth.
Board of Fish Southeast meeting moved to Anchorage in March
The Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting that was planned for this month in Ketchikan will be held in Anchorage instead in March. The decision is a loss for Ketchikan’s winter economy and is leaving some feeling cut out of the decision-making process. Joe Viechnicki reports.
The seven-person board decides on regulations for state-managed commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries. It was scheduled to tackle over 150 proposals for Southeast fisheries starting January 4th at the Ted Ferry Civic Center in Ketchikan after a year of pandemic-related postponements.
But this month it was postponed again because of the rising COVID case counts in Southeast. Now that meeting is planned to start March 10 at the Egan Center in Anchorage.
:10 “A lot of things at play and I guess I would call it almost retreating at this point but we’re looking at conducting the rest of our meeting schedule in Anchorage.”
Glenn Haight is the board’s executive director.
:17 “You know first thing is we want to try and get past this surge, no guarantees we can do that but come March we think it’s a little safer than earlier. It gives us at least about a month and a half to get past it.”
Haight says Anchorage’s larger hospital capacity played a role in the decision as the state sees COVID case numbers set new record highs this month. He says meetings for other parts of the state might be affected if the board postponed this Southeast meeting further.
:19 “All indications that I’ve got from the board is they really feel the need to get this meeting cycle done this year so that they can move onto the next one next year. And any loading up that you do, postponing you do is going to require likely enough additional budget, and that has its own set of challenges.”
Because of the move, Southeast residents who can’t travel to Anchorage will have a chance to testify remotely from some Department of Fish and Game offices during the meeting. The board will consider changes to herring fisheries first because herring seasons start in March. Salmon and other finfish proposals will be next, followed by shellfish and groundfish.
Leaders with Ketchikan’s tribal and local governments say they’re disappointed by the decision.
Gloria Burns, president of Ketchikan Indian Community’s Tribal Council, says KIC spent a great deal of time and energy preparing for in-person testimony by its members, with much of it centering around the traditional harvest of herring eggs. Now, she says the meeting will take place during the heart of the herring egg harvest season.
:28 “It almost feels as though, from my perspective, as though it’s a purposeful intent to go ahead and keep the testimony that could have been provided from being provided in-person.”
The Southeast meeting includes proposals from both subsistence and commercial harvesters to change the state’s management of the commercial sac roe herring fishery in Sitka Sound.
Ketchikan city mayor Dave Kiffer (KYE-fur) says the move disenfranchises people from Southeast. He says phone or video testimony is not as effective and he’d rather the meeting be rescheduled for a later date in Ketchikan.
He calls the decision a double whammy for his community.
:27 “First of all the financial impact of being able to have between 100-200 people coming to town, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, buying things, the simple fact that we will lose at least $20,000 on renting our civic center, you’re looking easily at a $100,000-200,000 hit to our community that we were kind of counting on given all the other economic issues that are swirling around us.”
Other organizations like the Juneau-based hunting and fishing group Territorial Sportsmen and the commercial fishing organization Alaska Trollers Association last year asked for a delay until 2023 because of health concerns and COVID spread.
Commercial salmon troller Matt Donohoe (DAWN-uh-hoe) of Sitka says he’d prefer the meeting be held in Southeast Alaska, but he was concerned with holding an in-person meeting in Ketchikan. The biggest problem he sees is the new dates overlap with the end of Southeast’s winter troll season.
:22 “It leaves trollers with a really no win choice of staying in town or going to Anchorage for the Board of Fish, or getting that last trip in between the 10th and the 15th of March which last year in 2021 was the most lucrative trip of the winter troll season.”
Donohoe (DAWN-uh-hoe) is hopeful the board will deal with salmon proposals at the end of the meeting to allow troll fishermen to finish their season and attend the meeting.
Other commercial fisheries for herring eggs, crab, halibut and black cod are also underway just before or after the new meeting date. The board also had a meeting scheduled in March on statewide shellfish proposals. Now that could be pushed back to later that month or into April.
The comment deadline for the Southeast meeting has been extended, it’s now February 23rd. There’s a March 3rd deadline to sign up for remote testimony.