Friday, October 3, 2014

Community protection in the face of more rationalized fisheries.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets October 8 – 14 in Anchorage, in part to discuss the proposed Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management program that would establish catch shares for the trawl caught pollock and cod in federal waters 3 – 200 miles offshore Alaska. Any program to rationalize these fisheries must be inclusive, taking into account the dependency on the fishery and investments made by communities, fishermen, vessel owners and local seafood processors, while maintaining opportunity for future generations.

According to the NPFMC’s Ecosystem Based Fishery Management approach, coastal community protections will be included in any limited entry programs such as catch share programs. Fishing communities are specifically mentioned in the Council’s Ecosystem vision and value statements. National Standard (8) for Fishery Conservation and Management states that any fishery management measures must provide for fishing communities sustained participation in the fishery and to minimize adverse economic impacts on communities.

One complaint with this proposed bycatch management program is that it seems to be more about allocation of the fishing resource and much less about reducing bycatch of prohibited species halibut and Chinook salmon. The Aleutians East Borough is opposed to options in the proposal to allocate target species other than cod or pollock, allocations that would not result in bycatch reductions and would lock out future opportunities for local fishermen.

The Council is looking at several options to mitigate negative impacts from the proposed program including vessel use caps and processor caps to limit consolidation in the fishery. The plan also considers regionalized delivery, active participation requirements and other options to protect communities. Setting aside some amount of quota for adaptive management or for a Community Fishing Association is also still on the table.

Western Gulf pollock fishermen are working on solutions and have recently developed a voluntary catch plan, that equally divides the quota and available bycatch between the vessels signed up to fish. Some fishermen continue to ask for a later opening date for the Pacific cod trawl season that they say would result in better-sized fish and less bycatch. Experience is the best answer to the bycatch problem according to one WGOA fisherman, noting that outside vessels new to the area end up catching a large portion of the bycatch. There are mixed feelings among fishermen about a full-blown catch share plan for the trawl fisheries.

The Borough Assembly set forth nine goals in a January 2013 Resolution, and in a recent letter from Mayor Stanley Mack for the Assembly to the NPFMC, reaffirmed support of these goals for fisheries management programs in the Gulf of Alaska:

1. Provide effective controls of prohibited species catch and provide for balanced and sustainable fisheries and quality seafood products.

2. Maintain or increase target fishery landings and revenues to the Borough and AEB communities.

3. Maintain or increase employment opportunities for vessel crews, processing workers and support industries.

4. Provide increased opportunities for value-added processing.

5. Maintain entry level opportunities for fishermen.

6. Maintain opportunities for processors to enter the fishery.

7. Minimize adverse economic impacts of consolidation of the harvesting or processing sectors.

8. Encourage local participation on harvesting vessels and use of fishing privileges.

9. Maintain the economic strength and vitality of AEB communities.

The Aleutians East Borough stands for creating opportunity in our communities, one reason we continue to push for new state fisheries, like the Dutch Harbor Sub-district fishery. This new state-waters Pacific cod fishery in the Bering Sea from mid-Unalaska Island to mid-Unimak Island has provided increased opportunity for local fishermen, without harm to other fishers. Hopefully the Alaska Board of Fisheries will elect to expand the guideline harvest level and fishing area for the Dutch Harbor Sub-district fishery. The Board’s Walleye Pollock Workgroup meets October 6th in Anchorage to look at the merits of a proposal to establish a state-waters pollock fishery.

The AEB believes fishery management at all levels should be about providing more opportunity, for processors, fishermen and support industries. Gains in efficiency must be balanced with continued growth and prosperity. Sustainable fisheries and sustainable local fishing communities go hand in hand and as the current bycatch management proposal takes shape, it must include protections for communities, fishermen, processors and future generations.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Observer Program Changes for 2015

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Annual Deployment Plan (ADP) for the Observer program, reviewed each October by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), calls for significant changes for small vessel participants in the Observer program.

NMFS proposes to use the trip-selection pool only to assign observers to vessels and will no longer use  the vessel-selection method for smaller vessels in 2015.  Since only single trips will be selected, the proposed method is expected to reduce the impact on smaller vessels.

The proposal calls for two categories within the trip-selection pool.  The small vessel trip-selection pool is comprised of catcher vessels (CV) that are fishing hook-and-line or pot gear and are greater than or equal to 40 ft, but less than 57.5 ft in length.  These vessels were in the “vessel-selection” pool for 2013 & 2014.  The other category, the large vessel trip-selection pool is made up of three classes of vessels: 1) all CVs fishing trawl gear, 2) CVs fishing hook-and-line or pot gear that are also greater than or equal to 57.5 ft, and 3) catcher-processor vessels exempted from full coverage requirements.  These vessels were in the “trip-selection” pool for 2013 and 2014.

The small vessel trip-selection pool vessels are likely to be selected for an observer 12% of trips compared to a 24% probability for the large vessel trip-selection participants. The selection rate for the former vessel-selection pool is the same as 2014, but large vessel trip-selection vessels will see a 50% increase in coverage rates compared to 2014.

Conditional releases will not be granted to the large vessel trip-selection pool vessels in 2015, and only granted to vessels in the small vessel trip-selection pool that do not have sufficient life-raft capacity to accommodate an observer.

Vessels selected to participate in Electronic Monitoring (EM) Cooperative Research will be in the no selection pool, not subject to observer coverage, while participating in such research.

The Observer Advisory Committee to the NPFMC will review the ADP at a meeting this week in Seattle.  The draft ADP is available through a link under item C1 of the NPFMC agenda, found here: