SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Catch Share Programs; Marine Spatial Planning;
Steller Sea Lions & Herring haul



February 27, 2010
Saturday AM

Many of the big decisions that affect our fishing industry are made by people who are far away and have never set foot in Alaska. The following are a few that fishing-dependent families and communities should have on their radars.

Catch share programs have become the preferred method for managing U.S. fisheries, and federal managers are offering incentives for regions to adopt the plan.

"Business as usual with our traditional management tools is not accomplishing what we need," said Dr. Lubchenco, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, speaking at a press conference. "And we find the science compelling that catch shares help restore the health of ecosystems and get fisheries on a path to profitability and sustainability."

Catch shares is a term usually applied to programs that divide up fish resources among historical participants, but it also encompasses fishing co-operatives, sector splits and other hybrids. So far 13 U.S. fisheries operate under catch share programs, including Alaska halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab.

It is important to know that catch share programs will not be a mandate, or "shoved down people's throats." Rather, the government is offering incentives for areas that want them, and the programs will be developed by regional management councils.

"There is quite a bit of money in the FY 2011 budget to develop catch share programs. The councils that want to do so will have staff and funding to do so. No one is being forced to do it," said Arne Fuglvog, fisheries aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, during a visit to Kodiak last week.

He added that programs in Alaska have built in flexibility, and in the case of halibut and sablefish, have been amended over 20 times.

"The council process is very responsive, and catch shares allow you to have that kind of flexibility," Fuglvog said.

There are bigger things to worry about than doling out the fish, said U.S. Representative Don Young.

"You have a large segment of our society, mostly urban oriented, that doesn't believe you should be catching any fish at all. If you think you've got a problem now, wait till NOAA starts farming fish off the coast of Alaska," Young said on APRN's Talk of Alaska.

The public can comment on catch share programs through April 10 at

Marine Spatial Planning

Last June the White House created an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to begin creating a more comprehensive approach to protecting and restoring the health of U.S. oceans and coasts. This new approach - called Marine Spatial Planning -uses chart lines on huge swaths of ocean to define strict zones for all users: shipping lanes, oil and gas development, fishing areas and other marine activities.

"The lay term would be ocean zoning," explained Arne Fuglvog. "It is planning for multiple activities and coordination between multiple agencies and laws. It is already used in several other countries and in the U.S. it's been a state by state initiative."

Fuglvog said no one is sure how the co-mingling of so many laws, agencies and multiple-users might legally fit into the ocean patchwork. A red flag for fisheries -- marine policy analyst Anne Hayden points out that the Interim Framework for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning mentions the word "fisheries" only once.

What he's hearing from the fishing industry, Fuglvog said, is slow down.

"The general feeling has been let's slow down and think about this. We need to really understand what it does, and maybe we should start with smaller pilot projects with states that want to do it, rather than a big national program that develops nine new regions with regional planning councils and all this extra bureaucracy," he said.

The public comment period on marine spatial planning ended Feb. 12.

Steller sea lions

Sea lions in westward regions were listed as an endangered species in 1997, prompting closures from three to 20 miles from haul outs, rookeries or other areas deemed 'critical habitat' to protect the animals. Their numbers are increasing - but are they recovering fast enough to prevent more fishing restrictions?

"What the agency (NOAA Fisheries) is looking at now is the population trend, which has increased 12% to 14% since 2000, and if it is on track for delisting and down listing. It is not whether the population is in jeopardy of survival," said Donna Parker, director of government affairs for Arctic Storm fisheries, and a former member of the Steller Sea Lion Recovery Team. She also watchdogs sea lion issues for the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance.

To down list a species from endangered to threatened, a population must increase by 1.5% per year for 15 years. To de-list a species, the goal is to double the population over 30 years.

"And we are on track to do so," Parker said.

The population of western sea lions is 75,000 animals - 50,000 in Alaska and 25,000 in Russian waters.

"As a comparison, gray wolves in the Northern Rockies were delisted last year when they reached 30 breeding pairs and 300 animals for three years," Parker said. "We have 75,000 animals. Yet, one has been delisted as no longer endangered, and the other they are considering a jeopardy finding."

If federal managers determine a 'jeopardy' or 'adverse modification' to sea lion critical habitat, it could affect a single region - or an area ranging from Yakutat all the way through the Aleutian Islands.

"Only the areas west of 178 degrees, which is in the middle of the central Aleutian Islands out to the Russian border, is showing continued declines. In every other area, they have been increasing," Parker said.

No one knows why westward sea lions have dwindled since the 1980s - but no connection has ever been found with commercial fishing. Ongoing research points to changing ocean conditions and most recently, predation by killer whales. Still, fishing could take the hit.

"So when looking at the commercial fisheries and whether to authorize or restrict them, you have to look at the fact they may not even be the cause of the problem," Parker said. "But it is up to the discretion of the agency and that is what they are considering right now."

Estimates peg economic losses to the industry and Alaska communities from existing closures as high as $200 million a year. The restrictions affect trawl, longline and pot gears. Federal fishery managers have delayed unveiling their new draft biological opinion by at least two weeks beyond the March 1 deadline.

Herring haul

Buyers will be looking to Alaska's roe herring fisheries to fill a huge shortfall in supply. The fishery at San Francisco Bay will remain closed again this year while the stocks rebuild. Production from Russia is way down; ditto at British Columbia where the forecast calls for 12,648 metric tons.

That means Alaska will supply most of the roe herring, virtually all of which goes to Japan. Reports say a strengthening yen in Japan is making traditional gift packs of roe come back into vogue.

Sitka Sound is traditionally Alaska's first roe herring fishery in late March. A record catch is projected there of 18,886 tons. The forecast forAlaska's largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is 25,905 tons. Roe herring fisheries occur each spring all along Alaska's coastlines, but regions further west haven't had any buyers for several years. This year Icicle Seafoods plans to have a processor on the grounds at Norton Sound to buy the region's 7,000 tons of roe herring. Alaska usually produces more than 40,000 tons of roe herring each year.


This weekly column focusing on Alaska's seafood industry began in 1991, and it now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A spin off - Fish Radio - airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic and social importance of Alaska's fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. Happy New Year and thanks for your continued support of fishing news!

Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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