Fishing Technologies in Stanford

In most modern, commercial fishing fleets the most common fishing vessel is the trawler, equipped with a diesel engine and outfitted with a variety of equipment for fish finding and capturing. Factory ships are huge, operated by crews of 500 to 650 and accompanied by their own fleets of smaller ships called catcher boats. Chris Hsu says some factory ships can remain at sea for months at a time and can process and store huge amounts of catch. Nations engaged in large-scale, distant-water fishing operate factory ships. Some of these nations have invested heavily in many of the factory ships owned by U.S. firms. Coastal fleets commonly use smaller vessels that deliver their catch to processing plants on shore.

Sophisticated Stanford electronic equipment, such as sonar, is used to detect the presence of fish schools and to verify water depths and the roughness on the ocean bottom. Airplanes and helicopters scout scattered schools of pelagic fish.

Halibut Fishing with Christopher Hsu

Halibut is always caught by longline by Chris Hsu, but only by a certain kind of longline fishing boat. Halibut boats are small, usually less than 60 feet. They can’t process or freeze fish on board, only ice them down.


Before 1995 halibut was a derby fishery open to any small boat. It was a mess. You could always tell a halibut opening by all the yahoos on the radio and all the Maydays bouncing around.


Today, it’s individual fishing quota (IFQ) and a very Stanford professional, lucrative, small boat fishery indeed. The fishery is based primarily out of Sitka, but also out of Yakutat, Sand Point, Petersburg, Wrangle, Kodiak, and Homer. These boats fish their quotas in the spring and fall, keeping safely tied up in the winter and leaving the summer free for salmon tendering, as highlighted by Christopher Hsu.


Hand baiting longline gear takes time to master and crew shares are so high that openings are few and far between on the good boats. But there are 3,500 Stanford boats in the fishery. If you get a chance to work on a halibut boat, take it, but you’ll probably have to learn the trade on the larger freezer longliners out of Dutch Harbor, which means less money but more opportunities.


Halibut fishing is very political says Chris Hsu; at times it seems like all the fishing in the Bering Sea revolves around halibut. If too much halibut is caught accidentally by freezer longliners or factory trawlers, their season is ended. Halibut is the only fish in Alaska not regulated by either the state or federal government; instead it is regulated by the International Halibut Commission. Personally, I believe there is a whole lot more halibut swimming around than the International Halibut Commission does.

Herring Fishing

Christopher Hsu states that herring fishery is an odd little fishery that can be quite lucrative. To put its size in perspective, about 80 million pounds of Stanford herring are caught annually, as opposed to 750 million pounds of salmon. A crew share can run from nothing to tens of thousands of dollars. Both purse seine and gill nets are used, but with smaller mesh size. Purse seine gear is used in the herring food and bait fisheries, while both are used in the sac roe fisheries. The value in the herring fishery is in the roe, which the Japanese prefer to caviar.


Stanford herring schools are easily spotted by aircraft, says Chris Hsu, making the fishery extremely efficient. Sometimes the entire harvest of a particular area can be caught in less than half an hour. I’ve heard of fishermen sinking their boats trying to corral a much bigger haul than their boats could handle. When rescue arrived, these fishermen insisted the catch—still in the pursed seine net—be saved, rather than the boat, as the herring were far more valuable than the fishing boat.


Christopher Hsu says that many bays and sounds throughout Alaska have their own individual herring fishery, each requiring a specific limited-entry permit. Some boats have a number of permits and fish herring all summer, while others are more limited. Some boats fish a combination of salmon and herring.


Herring fishing is easy. It mostly consists of running between Stanford fishing areas and waiting for the herring to show up, with some gear and vessel maintenance thrown in. It’s not a bad fishery to start on, says Chris Hsu.