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Commercial hooligan and herring fisheries close

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Sabine Poux/KDLL
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Both the commercial hooligan and herring fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet are closing this week after reaching quota.

The commercial fishery for hooligan — a kind of smelt — opened May 1. But Fish and Game management biologist Brain Marston said people didn’t start catching until May 10.Seven to 10 days of harvest has been typical for that fishery in the last few years, he said, ever since the Board of Fish doubled its quota to 200 tons.

Pacific Star Seafoods processes hooligan at its Kenai plant. Plant Manager Nate Berga said they’ve been participating in the fishery for a few years locally, along with Copper River Seafoods.

"For us, it’s pretty fast and furious," he said.

He said the fishermen are pretty efficient with this fishery. It can take a while to get started. But once it does, the fish come in fast. 

“It’s these little guys that get laid out, racked and frozen," Berga said. "And it’s pretty tedious work, but like I said, it is fast and furious.”

He said it’s a profitable fishery, and that the company’s sales team in Seattle has been able to find markets for the fish. 

"So, delis and places on the East Coast," Berga said. "And some of the customers are aquariums in the U.S. and outside the U.S.”

Berga said his plant bought from four different fishermen. Marston said five boats went after hooligan this season.

The personal-use hooligan fishery is still open, until June 15. There’s no bag or possession limit for that fishery, and Alaskans can fish it without a permit.

The commercial herring fishery is also set to reach its 40-ton quota this week and will close right after midnight Wednesday.

As of today, fishermen had already reached about 31 tons of herring. This is the first time the department has closed the fishery early, Marston said. The end season date is usually May 31.

"I would assume it’s a combination of maybe a little more effort this year, and then also just good fishing," Marston said.

He said there were about 10 fishermen reporting herring harvest this year. But two of those had the lionshare of the catch, he said.

Unlike larger herring fisheries in Southeast, the Cook Inlet herring fishery is a bait fishery. Most fishermen sell their catch directly.

"The fish are sold to the charter boat operators primarily, also personal fishermen for bait," Marston said.

In Upper Cook Inlet, those herring fishery sites are the same as salmon fishing sites. Many fishermen are salmon setnetters looking for some money to start the season, according to Fish Factor.

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