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Some fishermen on edge after rough year in North Pacific

Matt Stover, left, and Shawn Heiner prepare the Nor Quest for the upcoming king crab season in...
Matt Stover, left, and Shawn Heiner prepare the Nor Quest for the upcoming king crab season in Homer, Alaska, on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2003. (AP photo/Matt Hage)(MATT HAGE | ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 5:15 PM AKST
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SEATTLE (AP) — Some fishermen in the North Pacific Ocean are on edge ahead of a traditionally fruitful winter fishing season, following a rough 2020 that saw catch rates fall below long-term averages.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of some research surveys, making it more difficult to determine how many fish are in the Bering Sea off Alaska, the Seattle Times reported Monday.

The Seattle-based Alaska Fisheries Science Center canceled five of six research missions that help scientists measure fish stocks because of fears of virus outbreaks at sea.

Fishermen have begun their two-week coronavirus quarantines ahead of the Jan. 20 start of the fishing season and aren’t sure what they’ll find once ships largely based in Washington state make their way to the Bering Sea.

“This is the best time of year,” said Kevin Ganley, who captains a 123-foot (37-meter) boat called American Beauty. “If (the fish) are not there, we’re in trouble.”

During the 2020 season, which saw disappointing hauls in the second half of the year, Seattle-based American Seafoods had outbreaks on some vessels.

In May, 85 out of a 126-person crew were infected with the virus on one of the company’s boats off the Washington coast.

In the months that followed, many boat owners prevented outbreaks with two-week quarantines.

American Seafoods initially opted for quarantines of as few as five days but later switched to the standard two weeks. It still had problems that hampered fishing operations in the summer, however, when 85 out of 119 crew members on one boat tested positive for the virus during a stopover in the Aleutian Islands.

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