How Fishing Seasons Work

posted: 04/11/12
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How Fishing Seasons Work
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Before the modern age of fishing seasons and quotas, catching fish was basically a free-for-all. But as human population numbers skyrocketed, and with them the demand for fresh seafood, this left many fisheries worse for the wear. To help prevent overfishing and lower the risk of potential species extinction, government agencies were tasked with controlling fishing activities to keep aquatic life at sustainable levels — all the while balancing the commercial needs of a hungry civilization.

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Fishing seasons, along with closely related conservation and management techniques like fishing quotas and permits, are instituted for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important is to ensure that healthy populations will continue to flourish for years to come. Other reasons for keeping everything in check are to protect the business interests of those who rely on animal populations for their livelihood and make sure a habitat can support current wildlife levels.

Swim With the Fishes

Using the fishing season in Alaska as an example, the amount of fish and crabs each boat can catch — along with the ineligible ones that need to be thrown back — are carefully allotted and supervised. Male crabs that are large enough can be delivered to a processor, but any females or juvenile males must be chucked back overboard.

There are several ways quotas and permits can be doled out, so it's good to check in with the regional National Marine Fisheries Service and any other agencies that have jurisdiction to find out the specifics. In Alaska, the complicated system of fishing quotas, quota shares, processing quotas and processing shares all help ensure the entire operation is thoroughly monitored and controlled.

A Fish Out of Water

The who and what aside, when do fishing seasons open and close and how is this schedule determined? For Alaskan fishermen, the fishing season is determined according to species and location. Currently in Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea, for example, different species of salmon can generally be caught in the summer months, but the crab-fishing season is all over the map. Golden king crab (also referred to as brown king crab) can usually be caught throughout the year, while red king crab season opens for only short windows in the fall. Opilio crab season is typically open throughout the winter months.

In other parts of Alaska, the fishing season is much different. Take the southeast portion of the state. Golden king crabs can only be caught in the spring, while red and blue king crab season is open throughout a good portion of the fall and early winter. Along the Alaskan Peninsula — the island chain that juts away from the Alaskan mainland towards Russia — only Dungeness and Tanner crabs can be caught. The season for Dungeness is open throughout much of the summer and fall, while the Tanner crab season only opens during a winter spell.

Most importantly, if you're thinking of signing up for the incredibly demanding work that is the forte of the Alaskan fishermen, do your homework first. Keeping on top of the ins and outs of the fishing regulations might be as challenging as the fishing itself.

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