By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

They may be small but theyre plentiful, and thats a boon for Crescent City fishermen catching hake.

After the official opening on Sunday, commercial fishermen trawling for hake, also known as Pacific whiting, say the season is looking good so far.

Theyve come across one school of fish out there that was seven miles wide and 25 miles long, said Sea Products general manager Leon Gavin about the Miss Sue. They are small, which is what we expect this time of year.

The Miss Sue will be joined soon by the slightly larger Pacific Ram.

In years past there was far more competition for the whitefish.

They used to let the foreign boats come in but they caught a lot of salmon and rock cod as a bycatch, Gavin said. So they moved them out in the 1980s, which gives Americans the lions share of the haul.

We had a lot of the foreign boats in the 1970s. Mostly Russian, but also a lot of Japanese, Chinese and Poles. They were fishing right off the mouth of the

Klamath and they probably caused much of the decline of the salmon and cod, he said.

Dock worker Jim McLaughlin, who has seen 35 years of fishing off Crescent City, said in past years it was not unusual to see 50 to 75 Russian trawlers just off the shoreline.

According to Gavin, 95 percent of the processed fish will be sold in American markets this year, which is a big turnaround from decades earlier, according to Harbor Commissioner Beverly Noll.

This is a commodity that we Americans, as consumers, had to adjust our palates for, Noll said.

This is good for the community because it provides jobs, and the money re-enters the community through buying groceries and making house payments, even if we dont have a market for it locally, she said.

The market for hake is unusual, according to Gavin.

Its used primarily (to make) fish cakes, he said. They remove the flavor and introduce an imitation flavor to them, like crab or shrimp.

Although the bulk of the market for hake is in the American southeast, they are selling a portion to Europe - and even to our rivals.

Were trying to make some sales in Russia this year, Gavin said. But theyre so unstable, were afraid we wont get paid.