SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Rockfish Pilot Program a Win-Win for Kodiak
Test Fishery Improves Quality, Reduces Bycatch, Boosts Local Economy


January 30, 2008
Wednesday PM

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 demand.

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.



Source of News:

Alaska Groundfish Data Bank


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Ketchikan, Alaska