With the fishing season in local waters still uncertain, a bigger contingent of the Whatcom County commercial fishing fleet may stay in Alaska longer this season.
Commercial fishing men and women are busy loading up boats in places like Squalicum Harbor, with many planning to head north in the coming days and weeks.
Loren Kapp and Cathy Wade are expecting a good, but not blockbuster, fishing season in Alaska. They operate the Chief Kwina, a former Lummi Island ferry that is now a salmon tender boat. They plan to depart for Alaska on Monday, May 23.
“With the warm blob going away, it should help,” said Kapp, referring to the area of warm water that settled in the ocean waters east of Vancouver Island for the past couple of years. There is the potential for cooler waters in the area this year, which is what the salmon prefer.
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Heading up to Alaska for fishing is a longtime tradition for Whatcom County residents. Around 750 people will make the journey this spring and summer for commercial fishing trips, said Jim Kyle, president of the Working Waterfront Coalition of Whatcom County. Kyle said the largest contingent goes to Bristol Bay, while the rest are spread throughout the area, including Prince William Sound.
The Bellingham fleet may end up staying north longer because of the uncertainty of fishing in local waters later this year. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife closed recreational and non-tribal commercial fishing after the state and the tribes failed to reach an agreement over catch limits.
My prediction is that they won’t come back from Alaska as soon as they usually do
Pete Granger, Lummi Island Wild Co-op fisherman
After working up in Alaska, some of Bellingham’s fleet returns around August to the international fishery around Canada’s Fraser River for the sockeye or pink salmon runs. The Fraser River fishery could get approved while some of the lower Puget Sound fisheries many not, but at this point it’s unclear what will happen, said Pete Granger, a reefnet fisherman at the Lummi Island Wild Co-op.
Even if the Fraser River fishery does open, it’s not expected to be very strong this year. It’s predicted to be the lowest of the four cycles for this area and could be the lowest run since 1950, Granger said.
“My prediction is that they (the Whatcom County fleet) won’t come back from Alaska as soon as they usually do,” Granger said.
For Whatcom County shoppers, it means that the fish departments at local grocery stores probably will have more fish from Alaska and very few, if any, from Puget Sound waters, Granger said. That’s not good news for companies like Lummi Island Wild, which has already had to deal with a couple of challenging seasons when the warm blob was in place.