Declining king salmon stocks are playing a role in the Alaska’s Board of Fisheries decisions for other commercial fisheries. The board Sunday voted down a proposal for a new fishery in Southeast Alaska for market squid.
The proposal sought to allow purse seining for the squid, a species that can grow to seven and a half inches long and ranges from Mexico to Alaska. Salmon seiner Justin Peeler of Petersburg told the board he’s also fished for squid in California.
“As somebody that had a background in fishing squid I got reports from other fishermen during various times of the year of seeing squid, biomass is showing up, water temperature is warming a little bit and we’re seeing changes of that in our other fisheries and after seeing it grow and kindof more and more sightings and the density of the schools and the sightings growing I decided well I should put this proposal in,” Peeler explained.
Peeler thought the fishery could be opened to other gear types as well. He saw squid as an opportunity for fishermen but also a potential threat to other species.
“They’re eaters,” Peeler said. “In a short period of time they have to eat grow and spawn and that’s the fear I have is that these could move in in a very rapid rate and we could see a huge change in some of our other fisheries due to us not realizing that this is somewhat of an invasive species as oceans warm. Our local inside waters may stay cool enough that they might hold ‘em off a little bit but if it’s warm out in the deep they’re gonna come up and they’re going to spawn and they’re going to be in our waters as their population booms.”
Fish and Game issued what are called “commissioners permits” in 2014 and 2017 to Peeler and others interested in testing whether they could catch squid. Peeler explained he tried last fall but was unsuccessful due to weather and colder ocean water.
There was a mix of support and some opposition for the new fishery from advisory committees and other commercial fisherman. Some did not want to impact a food source for king salmon and others wondered about catching king salmon as bycatch in a seine net.
Sitka resident Jeff Feldpausch had concerns about a lack of information. “I’m opposed to this proposal at the moment,” Feldpausch said. “It seems a little bit pre-emptive as there hasn’t been enough test fishery data come in. I share the concerns about bycatch, not just only ever-declining king salmon stocks but other non-targeted species. I would encourage the board to kick this back to the commissioner to collect that data.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game opposed the new fishery and does not do any kind of stock assessment on the amount of squid in Southeast waters.
Board member Robert Ruffner of Soldotna said he was not ready to approve the fishery and asked Fish and Game staff whether they would still issue commissioner’s permits for test fishing.
“Given what you’re gonna hear in great detail and in very high volume on king salmon, Chinook salmon in this region, given the fact that the board and the department have adopted three stocks of management concern of that species in this region, I’d be inclined to put a pause, frankly,” said ADFG’s commercial fisheries division director Scott Kelley. “I mean I really do wanna support this type of fishery development. I think the species does lend itself to exploitation. Obviously there’s been squid fisheries throughout the range of the species, multi different species. We do definitely not support a directed fishery, so totally on board with that.”
Kelley thought the department may even stop issuing commissioner’s permits for purse seiners at least until king salmon rebound. The vote was 7-0 against the squid fishery.