March 15, 2012 | Vol. 39, No. 11

USCG discourages aggressive behavior during Sitka fishery

The U.S. Coast Guard has advised permit holders for the annual Sitka Herring Sac-Roe fishery that they will increase the number of boarding teams in Sitka and will, “conduct immediate on-scene boardings of intentional collisions that occur during the fishery.”

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally, U.S. Coast Guard
A fleet of fishing vessels finishing off-loading their catch of herring during the 2011 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery in Sitka Sound April 4, 2011. The fishery is open for a few hours for as many as five days each year and more than 50 vessels attempt to catch as many fish for their roe as possible in that time.

The letter was sent to all permit holders in late February by S. W. Bornemann, Captain, U.S. Coast Guard, Captain of the Port in Southeast Alaska.

The captain noted the USCG has conducted multiple investigations of collisions, near misses and negligent vessel operations that have resulted in damage to vessels totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Most notably were collisions caused by vessels engaged in practice known as “blocking,” where a vessel not actively engaged in fishing attempts to impede a vessel which is actively engaged in fishing from completing a successful set,” according to the letter.

“Collisions resulting from blocking will likely lead to immediate boardings of all vessels involved to determine the causal factors. This could very well delay and interrupt your fishing plans. To avoid such potential delay, we encourage you to avoid aggressive behavior. Violators will be further processed for fines via the civil penalty process,” according to Bornemann.

The 50 permit holders will compete for 28,829 tons herring that last year brought as much as $690 per ton. The guideline harvest last year was 19,490 tons and commercial fishermen hauled in 19,429 tons in five openings that ended April 9.

With millions of dollars at stake and fish openings lasting only minutes, skippers will not want to face time-consuming boardings by Coast Guard boarding teams while their fellow skippers are filling their nets with tons of the lucrative catch. Last year’s catch was valued at more than $12 million at the docks.

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