The coming year should prove a lucrative year for Alaska fisheries, even in the face of the doom and gloom surrounding the chinook salmon declines and a sketchy halibut situation.

The largest volume fishery, pollock, and the most valuable fishery, salmon, both have positive forecasts and large projected harvests; escapements for Alaska’s iconic king salmon were largely achieved in 2014; and various regulatory bodies have a full schedule to deal with both hurting and flourishing stocks.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed tighter restrictions for the 2015 charter halibut fisheries in Southeast and the central Gulf of Alaska.

The changes approved Dec. 11 will retain the two-fish daily bag limit for the central Gulf, or Area 3A, fished out of Southcentral ports and Kodiak, with the first of any size and second not to exceed 29 inches while adding a new rule prohibiting trips on the Thursday of every week between June 15 and Aug. 31.

An emergency measure to help northern Bering Sea halibut fishermen was defeated at last week's North Pacific Fishery Management Council, in a vote split along regional lines with all the Alaska representatives supporting the measure, which failed by a 5-5 tie vote.
The measure would have transferred halibut bycatch quotas from pollock trawlers to hook-and-line halibut fishermen. It was vigorously opposed by representatives of pollock factory trawlers and onshore catcher boats.

Severe declines closed chinook salmon fishing on the Yukon River this year, and further steps to keep the big fish out of Bering Sea trawl nets are under consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The pollock B season dates could be shortened, with early potential ending dates of Sept. 15, Oct. 1 or Oct. 15. The season now remains open until November, although many boats stop fishing earlier. Changing the dates is among the options the fish council decided to review next year, at its meeting last week in Anchorage.

Editor's note: This story has been updated and corrected. Corrected text is indicated with strikethrough and new text is in bold.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed tighter restrictions for the 2015 charter halibut fisheries in Southeast and the central Gulf of Alaska.

With one council member absent, an emergency action proposal to reduce Bering Sea halibut bycatch limits for 2015 failed on a tie vote by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council Dec. 13.

The failed motion, introduced by council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak, would have lowered the 2015 Bering Sea halibut bycatch limit by 33 percent from the current limit of more than 10 million pounds allocated between the pollock and bottom trawl fleets.

Concerns over the fate of the directed halibut fishery in the Pribilof Islands prompted lengthy discussion during the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage.

Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak introduced a motion for emergency regulation to reduce the 2015 BSAI halibut bycatch allocation by 33 percent, out of concern for harvesters in areas C, D and E, saying that to avoid such emergency action would be shirking the council’s responsibility for fisheries management.

The Southeast Alaska Drift Gillnet and Purse Seine task forces met in Petersburg on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, to review the 2014 season and discuss the 2015 season.

The preliminary guideline harvest level is 8,712 tons. That’s low by recent standards — it would be the lowest level since 2003. And it’s about half of last year’s target, which was 16,333 tons.

From Sitka to Kodiak, small, independent commercial fishermen are taking an increasingly hands-on role in marketing their own fish.

Rhonda Hubbard and her husband Jim of Seward started selling and processing their own fish more than two decades ago. Since then, she’s seen more fishermen do the same.

Hubbard said that the markets many of those fishermen reach, like farmers’ markets in the Lower 48 and other small sales opportunities, are niches that traditional processors often can’t fill.