Ocean FAD Articles > 2017 North Pacific Albacore Troll Season

Albacore Troll Season observed aboard F/V Ocean Joy
4 Nov 2017

                   2017 North Pacific Albacore Troll Season

                               Observed aboard F/V OCEAN JOY

                                          Written by Captain John Harder

Taking in consideration of the declining coastal ocean conditions and lack of “new stocks” & small fish (peanuts) from 2016 season, OFAD made a point to keep a close look at early favorable Ocean conditions “off shore”. In years past, the Albacore Troll fleet would do well fishing out west of the dateline in mid-May. Since the return of the IUU driftnet fleet in 2002-2004, the Albacore Troll fleet has been unproductive on the High Seas. Only 1 season out 14 has had any production in international waters. Being that the past 2 years of coastal fishing showed very little sign of driftnet scratched fish, one could only hope that the fish to the West will be unscathed too.

In preparation for the 2017 season, it was decided that brother Bud (William Harder), vice president of OFAD, was going to monitor Sea Surface Temperatures (SST), along with signing up on Global Fishing Watch, in earl May.

Global Fishing Watch is a new web site that allows the public to monitor marine traffic, and fishing activity, using a tracking system called Automatic Identification System(AIS). This web site was set up to help detect & eliminate IUU fishing around the world. http://globalfishingwatch.org/map/

Bud Harder reported a warm water formation forming close to the coast of Japan and towards the East by mid-May. This water formation eventually spread towards the date line, making small warm water pockets in the middle of colder water. This makes Ideal fishing conditions for Albacore tuna.

Unfortunately, OFAD’s observation F/V “Ocean Joy” was not going to be ready for fishing until the 6th of June, if not later, because of a major overhaul on the main engine. Other fishing vessels that planned on prospecting the far Western Pacific early, ended up on the west coast to start the season. One fishing vessel left Hawaii in the middle of May & headed North until the water turned cold but had no sign of fish. The vessel headed East towards the coast finding no fish all the way.

Meanwhile, Bud Harder started seeing foreign fishing vessels coming, from the west, into the same area that looked best for our Albacore fishing grounds, giving that the SST are right. From the middle of May till the end of May, Bud said the boats doubled in numbers. He explained how he was tracking the vessels using Global Fishing Watch. Some vessels from Japan and many from China.

By the 1st week of June, Ocean Joy was getting ready for sea trials when brother Bud alerted me that the foreign fleet had doubled again. That there must be over 30 vessels in the same area and growing. Bud explained how the fleets separated according to country. How the Chinese moved further to the east, etc. I then told Bud, that a sure sign of a IUU driftnet vessel is that the vessel track line will move back and forth and back and forth. Or like a zipper, giving compensation for drift, etc. This would stand out from vessels going in a straight line, or staying in the same area, as if shut down. Bud informed me that he was seeing that exact kind of movement. We agreed to notify everyone we could think of. Bud tried contacting Global Fishing Watch. I called the USCG in Juno, Alaska. I explained the situation & made sure that they were aware the vessels in question. I also left messages to inform NOAA & Western Fishboat Owners Ass. (WFOA). We spread the word to the fleet eventually, hoping that others would call it in too.

This is a common, or normal track line for a Jig fishing vessel. Stopping where there is fish.

This vessel appears to be Jigging also. It only goes back over its track line a couple times.

This vessel’s track line goes back and forth, back and forth. It appears to be laying driftnet. Going from one point to another.

Here is another picture. Back and forth… I suspect this is a IUU driftnet vessel who did not turn off his AIS. Thanks to Global Fishing Watch! I hope that the USCG will investigate the area. I will take this up with the WCPFC after the season.

June 19th, Ocean Joy departed for fishing, Leaving Port Angeles around 6pm.

Up till now, little to no sign of Albacore had been reported along the coast. Unlike the previous years were production started on the 1st week of June, the water is colder this year and undeveloped.

June 21st, 45:35N x 125:31W, just off the Columbia River. We arrived in the only small area with any kind production on the whole coast. Boats coming from all over were crowed all together in one small zone. There were scores up to 150 fish, and down to 10 fish, per vessel. We managed to scrape up 42 fish but did not want to compete with the crowd. SST was 59.4 in the area. No net marked fish caught.

June 22nd, 44:22N x 127:18W Ocean Joy is heading Southwest. Northwest wind 25kts, SST:58.7f. 11 fish caught averaging 13lbs.

June 25th, 40:58N x 136:18W Ocean Joy turned back to the East & South to look for better sign. SST still a cool 60.7f with no bird or bait life at all. Only 5 fish caught.

June 28th, Ocean Joy is at 38:10N x 127:45W. Water temp. 62.0. We managed to catch 23 school fish. Nothing to work on, so moving Northeast.

June 29th, 39:34N x 126:15W, Ocean Joy caught 30 Albacore in 59.0f water temp. Still too little sign to keep us.

July 1st, 43:15N x 125:55W Ocean Joy is now back in the fleet off the Oregon coast. We caught 62 fish in 59.8% water. No signs of driftnet marked fish.

July 4th, 44:00N x 126:27W Ocean Joy caught 72 Albacore Tuna in 60.0% water. We had no bird or bait sign. The ocean looked dead compared to years past, or normal conditions for the area. The Albacore Troll fleet was averaging less than 1,000 lbs., or ½ a ton a day in this area. Anywhere ells on the coast is starvation.

July 5th – 9th, 44:30N x 126:30W, Ocean Joy remained in this area averaging 70 fish per day. We tried to stay located but found it hard being there was too many boats in the area and not enough fish. Although We have not noticed any driftnet scratches on the fish, it is not unheard of. A few of boats in the fleet, both US and Canadian, have reported driftnet scratched fish. 3-10 fish out of 100, or 3-5% of the daily catch.

July 10th, 45:18N x 126:03W Ocean Joy is now back to the spot we started this trip. We caught 86 Albacore Tuna in 61.7 SST.

July 11th, Ocean Joy is in the same area, but more boats came into the area. We caught 44 Tuna. This is not looking good.

July 12th, Ocean Joy headed for Westport Washington. ETA for 4pm. We were going to prepare for a trip “off shore”.

July 13th – 17th We made our turn around. We contacted USCG Juno, Alaska to find out what kind of fishing was going on at 38N x 174W. Officer Roberto Puente told me that there was a cutter in the area and that the vessels in question were squid fishing. I told the officer that some vessels were registered as Tuna Longline vessels. He did not answer back. I asked if there was any driftnet activity found, and he said no. I made it clear to the officer that I, along with a few other fishing vessels were going to set sail to that area for fishing. We are investing thousands of dollars in fuel & 12 days in travel time and can not afford to be competing with driftnets when we get there. Officer Puente assured me that no driftnets were found. We filled the fuel tanks, got enough food to last for 75 days and sailed to the west.

July 18th, 45:49N x 126:18W, we only caught 2 Albacore and continued west.

July 21st, 44:44N x 136:11W, we caught 19 Albacore and making slow time heading west.

July 23rd, 44:10N x 142:00W, we caught 49 fish. Heading west.

July 25th, 44:10N x 147:50W Only 6 fish caught, but good weather.

July 28th, 43:25N x 157:40W, Ocean Joy finally found a sign of fish. We ended up catching 146 fish for the day. The biggest day of the season. No evidence of scratched fish yet.

July 29th, 43:22N x 158:32W We had to move to the west to stay with the sign. The fish seem to be moving through. We caught 147 Albacore. The grade of fish is mixed. 14lbs. up to 20 lbs.

July 31st, 43:15N x 162:50W Ocean Joy caught 99 Albacore. The fish appear to be moving on and a few hang up on water edges. We are one of three vessels heading west. Some 6-8 vessels are coming west behind us and getting some good sign around the 150W. We decided to work back to the East before we get too far away. Scores were up around 500 fish for the lucky one.

August 1st, 43:15N x 159:20W We captured 74 fish. Moving to the Southeast.

August 2nd, 42:12N x 158:08W, we ended up with 77 fish. All on a water edge we crossed 1st thing in the morning. Nothing all afternoon.

August 3rd, 42:47N x 155:58W Totally dead. Only 4 fish today. We must have gotten too far south. Less and less sign for the boats getting in the area ahead of us too.

August 4th, 43:09N x 155:55W, with only 3 fish for the day. We decided to turn around, along with one other vessel for our running partner, as there were plenty of boats to cover the area. It sounded like the boats were getting bunched up and the fishing was not improving.

August 5th, 43:05N x 159:09W with 11 fish for the day. Still going West.

August 6th, 43:04N x 162:00W Ocean Joy, along with our running partner, hit pay dirt! We found a good edge between the two vessels and schools of Albacore Tuna feeding along it. We ended up with 296 mostly large fish. Sadly enough, we had a sprinkling of driftnet scratched fish. Around 30 fish detected having light scratches down the sides. I pretended, at 1st, not to see but the scratches do not lie!

August 7th, In the same area. We had 490 fish today. We shut down a few hours to freeze the fish properly. Our partner boat doubled us in production. Most of the vessels to the East are moving our way. More scratched fish today too.

August 8th – 10th, Ocean Joy managed to catch 300 Albacore Tuna per day. We averaged 30 fish a day that were lightly scratched down the sides. The larger fish seem unscathed, but the school fish have a noticeable amount of scratches. Over 15% of the 12 – 14 lb. class.

August 11th, 43:09N x 161:41W, our fishing dropped off as more boats arrived into the area. There are 9 vessels in the area instead of just 2. We picked up 68 fish moving towards the East, in response of fish being caught by a boat in rout to join us.

August 12th, 43:11N x 160:36W Ocean Joy worked a small edge next to 2 other fishing vessels. We were the lucky boat, catching 228 fish. Many of the fish were large giving us the indication that the fish may be migrating East.

August 13th, 43:14N x 160:04W Only caught 39 fish moving East. Other vessels spreading out and many moving on to the West. Reports of over 200 fish being caught at 166W.

August 14th, 43:15N x 160:35W Ocean Joy caught 31 fish moving back to the West.

August 15th, 43:06N x 162:03W We have found very little sign retracing our steps towards the West, with only 6 fish for our effort. We got word, via e-mail, from Bud Harder about the Asian fleet around 40N x 176W. He mentioned that most all the vessels were moving East. He said it was like a mass exit. Even a training ship from Japan, that had been working some grid in that area, started on a Westerly course… I passed on the information to the vessels moving West. We are heading to the Northeast for tomorrow.

August 16th, 44:04N x 160:14W Ocean Joy found a good water edge, to the North, with fish hanging about. We caught 133 fish moving along it in the Easterly direction. Some fish were scratched by driftnets.

August 17th, 44:13N x 158:39W We ran out of sign going East, but another vessel is doing good further East. We decided to continue East. 30 fish caught for the day.

August 18th, 44:43N x 156:00W Ocean Joy worked in the area with 6 other vessels. We caught 279 fish and noted many with driftnet scratches on them. Most of the fish are in the same school fish class weighing 12-14 lb.’s. Unfortunately, the fish schooled up into one major school. The vessels that got to work on the school did well, while the rest of the vessels in the area did poorly.

August 19th, Ocean Joy, along with the other boats, searched around the same area for next to nothing. The fish moved on. We ended up with 15 fish for the day.

August 20th, 44:45N x 154:35W Ocean Joy moved further to the East and joined another vessel in catching 237 fish. This appears to be the same schools as we had out West. The same size and same driftnet scratches on them. The fish are not staying put. They seem to be migrating to the Northeast. There is some saury bait around and a water edge.

August 21st, we are in the same area as yesterday, but found very little fish around. We caught 43 fish for the day. We have decided to work our way back to the coast. We are getting close to being full.

August 22st- August 30th, 46:53N x 124:17W Ocean Joy travelled 70% true to Westport WA. finding little to no sign of Albacore along the way. We had 50 fish for the past week of traveling.

August 31st, Ocean Joy unloaded 31 ton to Westport Seafood to be transshipped to Canada for market. Our fish is sold as Sushi Grade Albacore. Our market processes fresh frozen loins and sends them all over the world with the MSC label. We are proud of our fish.

After unloading, we got fuel and groceries and departed Westport heading West.

Sept. 1st, 46:45N x 126:19W Ocean Joy is heading back West to try “off shore” again. We picked up a running partner along the way. Only 1 fish caught for the day. There had been very little change on the slow fishing off the coast of Oregon & Washington. Lucky boats average ½ - 1 ton per day. Many boats in a small area.

Sept. 2nd – 7th, Ocean Joy travelled West along 45:52N to 140:39W. The fishing was slow out to the West and a new storm track was moving into the area. It was decided to turn back towards the coast. We only caught 20 fish for the past week.

Sept. 8th – 11th, 45:57N x 127:15W Ocean Joy is now back on the coast with a large fleet in the area. We were lucky to catch 80 fish for the day. Most boats had less. We noticed no net marked fish.

Sept. 12th – 17th, 47:04N x 127:12W Ocean Joy fished around the area only to find poor fishing. We averaged 20 fish per day and heavy competition in any areas that fish were found. We decided to work to the West once again. This time at a higher Latitude.

Sept. 18th, 47:57N x 129:40W Ocean Joy caught 29 fish. No net marked fish.

Sept. 19th, 48:00N x 130:00W We caught 67 fish. Word that some good sign of fish showing up out to the West again. We turned that way.

Sept. 20th – 24th, 48:50N x 141:13W Ocean Joy averaged 30 fish per day while travelling to the West. This was a better sign then the former track at a lower Latitude. The water temp. is much cooler then normal for finding Albacore. This SST is 59.0 – 57.6f, compared to the normal SST for Albacore of around 60.0f – 63.4f. Who would know or guess? Every year is different.

Sept. 25th, 49:02N x 143:25W Ocean Joy met up with other vessels in the area. We caught 183 fish for the day. No driftnet scratches indicated.

Sept. 26th, Same area. We caught 162 for the day. Boats are getting grouped up and the fish seem to be going off the bite.

Sept. 27th, In the same area. We caught 92 fish. No scratched fish.

Sept. 28th, In the same area. Ocean Joy caught 66 fish. Less sign every day.

Sept. 29th, In the same area. Weather came up to 25 – 30 knots of wind coming from the West. We shut down early with 15 fish caught for the day.

Sept. 30th, In the same area. Ocean Joy managed to stay on a school for most of the evening. We caught 250 fish for the day. Many of the boats in the area also did well. The fish were biting well today.

Oct. 1st, 49:12N x 143:26W Ocean Joy, along with other vessels in the area found little sign. The schools of fish seem to have disappeared or vacated the area. As boats spread out to look, we started working Northeast again.

Oct. 2nd – 4th, 50:15N x 137:25W Ocean Joy scratched up 30 fish per day before turning around. Some vessels found fish to the Southwest of us.

Oct. 5th, 49:24N x 139:53W We caught 75 fish working a water edge. We felt lucky. No fish were seen scratched by driftnets.

Oct. 6th, 49:16N x 140:07W Ocean joy caught 129 Albacore with the help of one other vessel in the area.

Oct.7th, In the same area. We caught 71 fish for the day. The weather was getting worse. We had 25 knots of wind from the West and big sea building.

Oct. 8th, In the same area. We caught 81 fish working in rough weather.

Oct. 9th, 48:58N x 140:03W with weather conditions worsening and water temperatures cooling off, the consensus of the fleet was to vacate the area and call it a year. There are a few fish around, but the storm track looks bad for the future. Ocean Joy caught 35 fish.

Oct. 10th – 14th, 48:26N x 124:48W Ocean Joy ran to the coast with a gale on her tail. We caught 42 fish along the way. No fish had driftnet scratches. Our ETA to clear into Port Angeles is 6 pm. We will get cleared in & out of US Customs, then clear into Canada for off-loading in Vancouver, BC. This will conclude our fishing season for 2017.

All in all, 2017 has been one of the worst seasons ever. Ocean Joy caught 50 tons for the year. A normal season would be 100 tons. Last year, 2016, Ocean Joy caught 86 tons and that was doing exceptionally well. Our production has been declining for the past 6 years fishing on the Westcoast. This was the 1st year that any amount of fishing effort had been done, west of 150W, for a decade. Water conditions were more favorable “off shore”, as were the Albacore fish stocks, but not healthy enough to hold up to more than 6 boats.

Ocean Joy noticed that the fish caught in the 150W – 163W area had a large % of driftnet marked school fish. The fish observed close to the coast had very few, if not any, driftnet scratched fish. Being that the farther west we fished, the more scratched fish we caught, leads me to believe that the IUU driftnet fishery has not stopped and more damaged stocks are to come from further west. Next year we hope to get an early start in the Western Pacific. This will give a 1st hand observation on the situation. We hope to find out if this growing squid fishery is jig fishing squid, or what method is being used.

OFAD hopes to voice our concern to the WCPFC meeting in December.

John Harder