Written by Jen Finn
July 1-11, 2007 — With huge volumes of fish coming into all areas, and all fishermen catching lots and lots of fish, the processors simply cannot keep up with the production of their fleets. When this happens, the processors put a limit on how many fish each fisherman can deliver in a period. When this happens, the fleet is said to be "on limit."
As the fish were coming in thick into the river during the openings on July 2, I noticed there seemed to be fewer fishermen fighting it out at the line. It turns out some companies had put their fleets on limit, and once the fishermen reached their maximum allowed for that particular period, they called it a day. So as the day went on, there was more and more room to fish. My company wasn't on limit because they didn't have a bunch of boats in Egegik, Alaska, the district that was catching a huge volume of fish that day, so they had room to handle all the fish I could catch!
The next day, July 3, when all those fish pushed into the Naknek on that ebb, there were huge volumes of fish pushing into every other area around the bay. Egegik, Ugashik, and Nushagak were all getting masses of fish, and Naknek was right there with them. There was no way around the fact that the processors were getting completely plugged.
On Tuesday, July 3, just about every processor in the Bay announced not that they were simply on limit, but that they were suspending buying altogether for the next 12-hour period. That was a real shocker, and really hard to digest because there was a handful boats whose markets were not plugged, and they were out there fishing in front of everybody else's nose. What a great day of fishing those guys must have had!
One by one the companies resumed buying, but all were on limits. On July 5, Alaska Fish and Game announced that the escapement in the Kvichak River was back on schedule and fishing would be allowed in the Naknek Section only of the Naknek/Kvichak fishing district. This effectively closed the river to fishing, and moved us outside to partake in the more traditional routine of fishing the bay with our entire 150-fathom net, or 200 fathoms of net if a boat had two permits.
Now we were fishing outside, but we were still on limits. Peter Pan Seafoods, the company for which I fish, generally had its limits at about 8,000 pounds per opening. Smaller companies with fewer boats had their limits set in upward of 16,000 to 20,000 pounds per opening, and in areas like Ugashik that was a good thing, because there were a whole lot of fish being caught down there and they were catching up to those limits each period.
These limits lasted until July 11 when the catch volumes declined to the point where the processors could keep up with the fish being caught. Toward July 9-10 I think the processors could have lifted the limits, but maybe that was just the case in the Naknek district, as it could have been better fishing in other districts.
The big beef the fishermen have about limits is that every year a Russian processor applies to process fish in Bristol Bay, and every year it is declined. If that extra processing capacity was available during those times when the fleet was on limit, a whole bunch of fishermen could have delivered to the foreign processor and had that much more fish in the books.
In any event, there were a lot of fish caught in the 2007 Bristol Bay season, and a whole bunch that swam by because there wasn't enough processing capacity to pack them up.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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