By Laine Welch
Bait is always a big expenditure for many fishing businesses, and pollock could help cut costs for Alaska halibut longliners who fish in the Gulf.
Researchers have tested pollock in two projects to see if it might replace pricier chum salmon as halibut bait. Fish biologists use more than 300,000 pounds of chums in their stock surveys each year, costing nearly half a million dollars. The baits are used at more than 1,200 testing stations from Oregon to the Bering Sea.
A pilot study three years ago in the central Gulf and off British Columbia showed promising signs for pollock.
“We looked at several different baits: our standard chum salmon, pink salmon, pollock and herring,” said Bruce Leaman, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “Pollock showed a very strong indication of both better catch rates and lower bycatch rates, so we were very excited about that.”
In 2012, the bait project was expanded coastwide, and that led to mixed results.
“One confirmed what we saw in the Gulf, in that pollock was a very effective bait there relative to chum salmon and we got good catch rates,” Leaman said. “But when we moved into the Bering Sea, we got completely opposite results, where the salmon bait performed better than the pollock.”
“In the Bering Sea, pollock is a very significant component of halibut diet, and we were speculating that it may be a sort of novelty seeing salmon down there as bait, and that may have been what the fish were responding to,” he added.
When the raw data was statistically compiled and corrected, Leaman said bait test results were inconsistent.
“We do a number of corrections to the data to actually compare apples to apples across areas,” Leaman explained. “When we did those comparisons, we found the results were nowhere near as strong as with the raw data. The raw data showed pollock had much better catch rates, lower amounts of sub-legal fish and lower amounts of bycatch. But when we did corrections to the data we found that those results were not so consistent.”
The pollock bait still caught fewer small fish, but overall, the halibut catch rates were almost the same as with chum bait.
“That’s not necessarily a bad result,” Leaman said. “It’s just that pollock was not as grossly superior compared to what we had been using.”
Studies will continue, but for now, chums will remain the bait of choice for science. Leaman does agree that pollock can be a good bait alternative for halibut in the Gulf.
There is a severe shortage of fish technicians and biologists in Alaska’s largest industry, and it’s a trend that is predicted to continue for at least the next 10 years. A new statewide outreach programs started last fall aims to fill the bill.
“Some of the positions for fisheries technicians include fish culturists, fishery observers, fish and wildlife surveyors, habitat restoration technicians, stream surveyors, fishery management assistants and hatchery technicians,” said Kaitlin Kramer of Valdez. She is one of six outreach coordinators located in Petersburg, Kodiak, Homer, Sitka and Dillingham. They work for the University of Alaska/Southeast, as the Fish Tech program is headquartered at Sitka.
“Our role is to reach out to the communities where we live and help promote the fisheries technology program, try to recruit students and facilitate internships with local industries,” Kramer added.
Two training programs are offered: a Fisheries Technology certification and an Associates of Applied Science in Fisheries Technology. All classes are available to students on their computers.
The classes are recorded online with instructors in Sitka, and as long as students have an internet connection, they can view them on their own time. Or they have the option of sitting in live as the class is being taught. Kramer said classes follow the college semester schedule, but people can tune in when it’s convenient.
The Fish Tech program offers scholarships and internships. Registration opens April 21. If you have any questions, call 907-747-7717 or check out www.uas.alaska.edu/career_ed/fisheries/
Energy, fisheries, and politics will be served up at the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference’s 26th Economic Development summit next month. SWAMC is a nonprofit group that represents more than 50 communities, including Kodiak, Bristol Bay and the Aleutians.
SWAMC interim director Erik O’Brien said the group networks with more than 100 members, and their main connection is fish.
“The one unifying need of the whole industry is making the most value out of our fisheries and seafood,” O’Brien said. “That is really the one single thing everyone has in common.”
The three-day summit will cover a wide range of economic topics, including bringing down the overall cost of energy, developing our human capital in our education, training and workforce development systems, and how the maximum sustained yield benefits the people of Alaska.
Candidates for governor Bill Walker and Byron Mallott will participate in a debate on the final night. There is no word yet if Gov. Sean Parnell will show. The SWAMC Summit runs March 5-7 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage. For more information, visit www.swamc.org .
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