SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Fish Traps ill suited for commercial fisheries
By Bob Thorstenson


January 14, 2009

As much as old timers like to romanticize about fish traps, they were a bad idea and will remain a bad idea no matter what the fuel costs are. With the logic shown by Mr. McGilvray and revealed by his idea that the "replaced" gillnetters and seiners would indeed have jobs (pitching fish out of the traps), like some of the "new-age green" logic out there, you'd have to follow that analysis up with a 3rd level, replace drift gillnetting by just doing more purse seining.

Note that SEAS does not endorse this eco-nazi madness but consider this. Cost per pound and pound per gallon of diesel burned, purse seining is more efficient than any other type of salmon harvest, including trolling, drift gillnetting and most sport fishing.
Seining is probably more fuel and economically efficient than fish traps as well. So the debate on our part would end there.

But SEAS will NEVER advocate that we manage our salmon resource based upon archaic and bizarre "green" notions. Just because one type of harvest, or proposed harvest, may burn less diesel is just one of dozens if not hundreds of factors that must be addressed when discussing reintroduction of fish traps to Alaska.

But let's discuss it now. First of all, the 100% of troll production that occurs takes place in areas where traps would not be viable or even possible, like 3-30 miles offshore. Also Kings and Cohoes are very, very deep salmon species which are not targeted and sparsely harvested by purse seine fishermen due to their natural deep tendencies. Last year the purse seine fleet harvested just 3% of the wild, non-SE enhanced Kings and 14% of the cohoes. These numbers are about average. Seiners are supposed to harvest 19% of cohoes and 4.3% of kings but rarely ever get to those percentages. And the seiners catch those fish where the fish traps normally would fish. (not that there aren't new harvesting locations, but after commercial fishing since 1878 in SE, there are very rarely any new corridors opening up).

So much with replacing the trollers. Gotta have those kings and cohoes.

Now the gillnetters. They fish in areas that are difficult to access and, aside from Colpoys and a few choice trapsites in Clarence Strait. Unless you want to replace the Juneau and Haines gillnet fleets with the reopening of Icy Strait, Inian Islands and the Homeshore to fish traps because that is where those stocks need to be harvested if using fish traps. Not doable.

So much with replacing the gillnetters.

Now the seiners, whom I represent. Since we harvest 90% of the pink salmon and about half of the chum salmon and sockeye salmon, then that would be your mix of the Southeast salmon table without changing the other fleets around at all. Now once you've set up your trap--which by the slimmest of estimates (my grandfather owned one in 1929 and his costs were $3500 for the summer) would be a million dollars to set up and $150,000 for a tender to contract to haul the fish ( thankfully, under your contemplated scenario, this is one group that may hold onto their jobs) and fuel and labor would be another $100,000.

So now you've got a trap. If it's a pile trap you cannot move it. If it's a floater, then you can tow it to it's location. If the salmon don't come that way or it's a bad season due to the poor winters (2008) we've been having lately or due to a drought(2006) (2008 and 2006 were the 3rd and 4th lowest pink salmon harvests and returns since the 1970's)then you've got a million dollar trap sitting somewhere and now it cannot move to where the fish are travelling.

That's why we cannot replace the seiners.

But we are working to keep the fleet operating at lower numbers so that we are better able to continue to reduce our greenhouse impact and to better earn a living wage with a smaller overall numbers. A seine fishery that makes $6-9000 per year for it's professional crew members as we did from 2002-2006 is not going to have a professional crew around for long. Nor is it ever going to be considered a viable living unless we can keep some certainty in the numbers of boats.

Our buyback (fleet consolidation) has been held up by a number of circumstances these past few years. The good news is that it looks like we're going to have it in place by the 2010 season, so we'll be able to get a meaningful and predictable job situation for our crews.

Crewing aboard the vessel I own used to be a full time job and 5 Petersburg families lived on those wages from my vessel (when my grandfather ran it). Many of the members of SEAS still operate this way, especially in towns like Ketchikan, where you live. Besides just the owners, many additional families are able to earn a living on these seiners.

I can proudly say that my past 26 summers as a skipper have(as a part time commercial fisherman) paid for predominantly SE Alaska kids to get a perch to pay for college or buy time to consider their full time future or career- be it more full time commercial fishing or something else. And even their parents have a vested interest in my business since they don't have to pay as much for their kids college.

On to sports fishing. I do alot of that but I don't represent their interests collectively. But I'm sure there are alot of wives out there who agree with your efficiency ideas and would rather have their husbands just pick up the fish at the store or in your case at the fish trap dock, and not bother with the trip and wilderness experiences out there they go through when they catch it.

Thanks for your efficient fishing idea, Mr. McGillvray, but no thanks.

Bob Thorstenson
Executive Director, SEAS
Juneau, AK

Received January 08, 2009 - Published January 14, 2009


Related Viewpoint:

letter Fish Traps By Rudy McGillvray

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