Rockfish Pilot Program a Win-Win
Test Fishery Improves Quality,
Reduces Bycatch, Boosts Local Economy
January 30, 2008
A pilot program to test cooperative management of the Gulf of
Alaska rockfish fishery is already paying off for both fishermen
and the broader Kodiak community, according to Julie Bonney,
executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank.
"In its first year, the pilot program was successful in
slowing the pace of the fishery, improving product quality, reducing
bycatch, and even giving a boost to the local economy,"
Bonney said. "It shifted a significant part of the catch
to off-peak months, avoiding conflicts with the salmon fleet
and lowering unemployment on the island."
Developed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and
authorized by Congress as the first multi-species rationalization
program in the North Pacific, the 5-year Rockfish Pilot Program
was limited to trawlers in the Central Gulf of Alaska that fish
for Pacific Ocean Perch, Northern Rockfish and Pelagic Shelf
Rockfish and are allowed to take incidental harvests of Pacific
Cod and Sablefish.
"Rockfish are a $3 million part of Kodiak's vibrant seafood
economy, but under the old 'race for fish,' the fishery took
place during the first three weeks of July, just as the busy
salmon season was getting underway," Bonney said. "That
wasn't good for fishermen or processors. A cooperative fishery
could spread those rockfish landings throughout the year and
particularly to off-peak processing months."
Under the pilot program, the rockfish quota was divided among
the participants based on their individual catch history, and
fishermen were required to partner with their previous processor.
Given a choice between the old derby and the cooperative fishery,
99 percent of the qualified license holders signed on to the
new plan. No fleet consolidation occurred: 26 vessels participated
in the fishery this year compared to 25 boats in 2006 and included
some who took advantage of a provision to attract new entrants.
The rockfish season opened May 1 and continued through November.
Most of the catch occurred during the months of May and June,
when landings ranged between 1,000 and 2,000 tons per week.
That was usually a slack season for processors, but the cooperative
fishery kept the plants humming.
"The change in season allowed more rockfish to be brought
and processed onshore," Bonney said. "Local rockfish
production jumped 20%, from 15 million pounds in 2006 to over
18 million pounds this year. More work for the local processors
saw the unemployment rate in Kodiak during May and June drop
from about ten percent to six."
Absent the "race for fish," processors were allowed
to focus on more high-value products. Fillet production tripled
while production of lower-priced whole fish was cut in half,
and the need to process the lowest-priced product, surimi, was
eliminated entirely. The fleet also demonstrated that the cooperative
fishery could help achieve important conservation goals.
"Strict bycatch standards were imposed by the participants;
individual fishermen could be held accountable for unacceptable
rates and that prompted them to innovate," Bonney said.
"The result was a significant increase in fishing off the
bottom, fewer gear impacts to habitat and more than a 70 percent
reduction in halibut bycatch."
Improved retention and utilization of the harvest was also a
goal of the pilot project and discard rates were held at close
to zero. The May and June deliveries also were better for local
utilities, corresponding to seasonal drops in electric and water
Like any new program, not everything was perfect the first year.
The observer requirements (100 percent for vessels and 200 percent
for processors) were costly. Processors were surprised by initial
market resistance to fresh rockfish. The price fishermen received,
while higher than before, wasn't as much as some hoped.
"With any major change, you can't expect to achieve all
benefits in the first year, but the participants in Kodiak's
Rockfish Pilot Program are very pleased with the success of the
cooperative fishery and look to build on that to achieve additional
benefits for harvesters, processors and the broader community
of Kodiak," Bonney said.
Kodiak ranked as the nation's 4th largest fishing port in terms
of volume with 332 million pounds processed in 2006 and placed
3rd in value, worth $101 million. It is home to multiple processing
plants that handle a wide variety of seafood: salmon, halibut,
crab, herring, rockfish and more, is home-port to many family-owned
fishing vessels and boasts the only year-round residential processing
workforce in Alaska.
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