Port Moller Test Fishery adds boat to improve accuracy

Jun 12, 2018

The Port Moller Test Fishery got up and running Sunday, trying to predict how many sockeye salmon will return to each district of Bristol Bay. Now in its 51st year, the test fishery is adding a second boat for the first time to sample stations further offshore. 

Technicians retrieve salmon from gill nets on board the research vessel Pandalus.
Credit Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute

Scott Raborn, fisheries scientist for the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute, hopes the new boat will lead to more accurate predictions.

"The further we fish out, it seems like the more fish we find. Over the last three to four years, the run seems to have been further offshore," Raborn said. "The number of fish that we're missing off the end of the transect is an unknown, and we think that's causing problems with our forecast accuracy."

The research vessel Pandalus is supplied by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute provides technicians and gear to sample fish.
Credit Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute

Raborn has worked with the test fishery nearly a decade. He says they set gill nets at 10-mile intervals along an imaginary line from Port Moller to Cape Newenham, but their F/V Pandalus can only reach about 85 miles offshore in a single day without overtaxing its crew.

The F/V Icelander is a tender bound for Bristol Bay from Homer. Its crew will double the test fishery’s efforts from June 15 to 22, sampling stations up to 132 nautical miles from Port Moller.

Scientists take genetic samples from the fish they catch to estimate the age and stock compositions of this year’s run. Raborn said everyone seems to have their own interpretation as to how to use data from the test fishery.

"Everybody always likens it to reading tea leaves, and sometimes it is like that. It does give people something to talk about early in the season," he said.

As skipper Ian Hobson touches up the paint on the F/V Peter at the PAF boatyard in Dillingham, he said the numbers coming out of Port Moller are helpful.

"We’ve listened to them before on other boats I’ve worked on. You know there’s a big push coming into the river you’re in or something and stick around for a few more days if you need to," Hobson said.

One row over, skipper Roger Mikkelsen and his three kids are preparing the F/V Spartan to set sail. He keeps an eye on the test fishery forecasts, but Mikkelsen has another method to decide whether to take the two-day penalty for transferring to another one of Bristol Bay’s five fishing districts.

"Typically, I don’t base that off of the Port Moller," Mikkelsen said. "I base that off of the catch reports from the different districts that the processors give out -- what’s actually being caught, not what’s predicted to come in."

Whether or not the test fishery brings back its second boat next year depends on how useful the data is, Raborn said, adding that fishermen will certainly let them know if they get it right or wrong.

Now for the data ...

The numbers are in from Port Moller’s Monday catch. Across the transect, a total of 27 sockeye were caught, five in the 4 ½-inch mesh and 22 in the 5 ⅛-inch mesh. That’s up from the 10 total fish caught on Sunday, the first day of the test fishery.

  • Station 6 had three in the 4 ½-inch mesh.
  • Station 8 had 20 in the 5 ⅛-inch mesh.
  • Station 10 had one in the 5 ⅛-inch mesh.
  • And Station 12 had two in the 4 ½-inch mesh and one in the 5 ⅛-inch mesh.

These figures will be updated daily at the website here at least through July 10 and possibly later depending on the catch, Raborn said.

Contact the author at austin@kdlg.org or at 907-842-5281.