Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Philip Tschersich explained the study Thursday night at the Alutiiq Museum. The lecture was part of the museum’s fall lecture series, which features contributions from experts in multiple fields at 7 p.m. each Thursday.
Rockfish weren’t harvested in large numbers around Kodiak until 1991, when 55 vessels took more than 780,000 pounds. The state took over management from the federal government in 1997, with harvest limits set at 170,000 pounds in the Kodiak Management Area surrounding the island.
Further restrictions followed. The harvest was divided among districts, and trip limits were imposed, limiting fishermen to 5,000 pounds of rockfish every five days.
During this time, regulators operated with inadequate information — they didn’t have a good idea of an appropriate sustainable harvest rate, Tschersich said.
That led to an abundance survey, which “would create sustainable harvest rates,” he said.
As it turned out, the survey found more rockfish than expected off the east side of Kodiak Island. The total population for the Kodiak area is now estimated at 1.5 million rockfish. The population in the Chignik area is about 1.2 million. Each area has about 1 million black rockfish, the species targeted by commercial fishermen.
“We know a lot about them, but we’ve never known how many there were,” Tschersich said.
“There was a time when everybody in town was buying jig machines and it seemed like rockfish were the next big thing,” he said. “A number of people lost interest when the trip limits were introduced.”
Now, “the number of people fishing goes up and down with the price.”
The primary market for Kodiak-caught rockfish is Asia.
“I think a lot of it’s going to Asia, basically in the round; there’s little processing,” Tschersich said. “Some canneries pay a price premium for fish that are under a pound and a half.”
Those fish are sent west without even being gutted, and the smaller fish fit well on individual plates, he said.
With the new population figures, management biologists will be able to use already known lifecycle information to create a model of how many can be harvested each year.
“Through this model, it seems like those (guideline harvest levels) could be altered,” Tschersich said. “The east side GHLs could be up. … The result of this is hopefully by the next year, the GHLs will be changed to reflect reality.”
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