2021 Report on North Pacific Albacore Troll Season
2021 North Pacific Albacore Troll Season
“The Worst Season Ever”
Pacific Albacore Trollers Ass. Int. with Ocean Friends Against Driftnets
Report by Captain John Harder f/v Ocean Joy
The 2021 North Pacific albacore Troll & Pole season has been described by many fishermen as “The worst season ever fished”. From the lack of coastal bait & ideal ocean conditions, to missing runs of school fish (11-13 lb class & 14-16 lb class), Jig boats found it very hard to find any productive areas to fish, up & down the West Coast.
For most fishermen, production was less than 50% of their average catch rate. In some cases, fishermen quit fishing in the middle of the season because they couldn’t meet expenses, or simply couldn’t make it pay.
We started out by monitoring the Ocean SST conditions and ship traffic as early as mid-April through early May. Some vessels were looking to get an early start by going “off-shore” towards the dateline (180W) at that time. Sea surface temperatures were starting to form and looking fishy around 39%N x 170%W.
It was not long before a group of Chinese & Taiwanese fishing vessels listed as “Squid Jiggers” started filtering in that area. By the 1st of June, this Chinese “squid fleet” had grown immensely. By June 15th, squid boats covered a 100+ mile area running east & west. This fleet became centered around 42%N x 167%W which happens to be a traditional location for our “off-shore” Albacore troll fleet.
We contacted NMFS law enforcement, out of Honolulu, HA. to see if they were inspecting these vessels for potential IUU driftnets. Since our fishery is under constant attack by IUU driftnets, hiding themselves as “squid jiggers”, or “long liners”, we were worried that IUU driftnet activity would be going on.
This dampened all hopes of going “off-shore” as no albacore troller can produce among driftnets. NMFS said they were not aware of such a fleet of vessels, even though they were just 800 miles strait North of Hawaii but said they would investigate it. Last year, we had a lot of driftnets marked albacore. We took pictures & sent them in along with our logbooks with complaints, but never heard anything back about it.
On some days, last year, we had as many as 10 out of 100 fish caught with scratches on them. No albacore troller was going to risk going “off-shore” with a fleet of Chinese vessels in the area. This was almost a guarantee that you would come back with an empty fish holds & empty fuel tanks.
A small body of 16-18 lb fish started filtering in off the coast of Oregon. The 1st boats that got on the fish did ok, but the fish did not stay in one area long. The body of fish was not large enough to stand up to any amount of fishing pressure and quickly moved off.
The fish would pop up & give boats in the immediate area a day or two, then disappear. This small body of large fish migrated up the coast, then moved back to the west. It seemed to have settled around the Cob Seamount & to the North before taking off.
Later in the season, small fish started filtering in off Blanco (Coos Bay, Oregon). These fish were in the 8-9 lb class & just under the desired market size. Boats looked all over for larger school fish with no luck. Trollers were literally running away from the so called “peanut patch” as not to be catching next year’s fish.
Catching small fish is frowned upon threw out the fleet as it may damage the market price overall. As the season drug on & no school fish ever appeared, desperate boats had no choice but to continue catching these under sized fish. Many boats simply quit fishing early.
This season also marked the second year that no bait was found off Westport & Astoria. The bait boats had a disaster of a season. Even if they had bait, it was hard to find any large fish to work on.
Having two Year classes of fish not even showing up on the coast is very alarming. No 11-13 lb class fish or 14-16 lb class fish made it to the west coast. The stocks of Albacore have been dwindling for years now. Little to no albacore showed up off southern California nor was there fish off Eureka to speak of.
Some would say they are somewhere ells. I say they are still “off-shore”, or on board of the IUU driftnet fleet or trawler boats & going to market. Last year was bad for most boats, but this year was worse. Possibly the worst year ever.
We can only hope & pray that next year is better. As they say, “Hope for the best & expect …?” tough luck
Until then, this is JB saying, “over & out”