Alaska geoducks — worth a lot of clams. ADF&G photo
The Alaska Board of Fisheries is meeting all this week at the Sons of Norway Hall in Petersburg, and quite a few interesting Southeast shellfish proposals are on the table.
Proposals 183 and 184 strike me as particularly intriguing.
These would revolutionize the fishery for geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck), a giant clam divers collect from the seafloor. Most all of the clams are exported live to China, and can retail for upwards of $20 a pound, says a recent study done for the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association.
The two proposals would convert the geoduck harvest from a weekly competition among divers to a program where each permit holder would be allocated an equal share of the annual Southeast geoduck quota.
The Sitka Geoduck Marketing Association is offering the two proposals, one of which has an added component to disperse divers between desirable and less desirable harvest areas.
Proponents say the proposals would maximize the value of the fishery by allowing divers to focus on product quality rather than speed. They also tout other benefits such as better controlling the flow of product to the market, and reducing pressure on divers to work in poor weather.
However, the most competitive divers might suffer because of a redistribution of harvest share.
And the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it would have to hire more people to manage an equal shares fishery. It also cites potential for high-grading, where divers might keep only top quality geoducks and discard others, increasing harvest mortality.
Nevertheless, the department is taking a "neutral" stance on the proposals.
Well, Deckboss is sure you've heard all the arguments, pro and con, in past debates over various forms of catch shares.
Certainly, based on the recent trend, an equal share of the Southeast geoduck fishery would be quite lucrative.
The dockside value of the fishery has soared, from an estimated $465,000 for the 2000-01 harvest of 438,334 pounds of geoducks to nearly $5.6 million in 2010-11, when 845,582 pounds were taken.
The state has issued 112 Southeast geoduck permits, but only 69 divers made landings last season, earning an average of $81,000.