Crafting of Bycatch Reduction Plan for Trawl Groundfish Fisheries
By LAINE WELCH
April 29, 2013
It’s similar to a chess game, said Duncan Fields, a lifelong Kodiak fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council charged with designing the new plan.
“You have multiple moving pieces and every time you move a piece, it impacts all other pieces on the board,” Fields explained at a recent panel discussion in Kodiak. “You have your queen and your king– those might be your primary policy goals – but if you can get that pawn to the other end of the board, that becomes a queen. Sometimes the little components of a catch share or rationalization program can become equally as important as the big parts.”
“The big question is how you win, collectively, as a community, “he added. “That revolves around defining the goals and objectives early on. At the cusp of developing a program for the Gulf of Alaska, we have to appreciate the long term nature of the decisions we may make.”
Fields said he believes mirroring catch share modes being used so far in Alaska (halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab fisheries “will not bring a good result to the Gulf.”
Any new plan must be very inclusive, said Nicole Kimball, the State’s federal fisheries advisor.
“We need to recognize the interests and investments and the dependence of all sectors, so there shouldn’t just be a vessel based program or one just focused on processor interests or the community. It needs to be all three,” Kimball said.
In addition to bycatch reduction, the State wants the new plan to limit consolidation.
“It’s understood that can have a very negative effect on community stability and employment opportunities in fishing, processing and all the support industries,” she added.
Kimball said she is “constantly hearing” that the groundfish program needs to have improved monitoring and reporting, and it should also keep tabs on social and economic impacts of the management shift.
“The Council has embarked on a collection project to get baseline data on those kinds of questions that don’t get asked on fish tickets, or from eLandings, ”she said.
The loudest and clearest message Kodiak had for Kimball was that any new program should not include permanent groundfish giveaways. She said the Council will explore many kinds of limited duration and allocative quotas, some never tried before.
“We are looking at the ability to allocate quotas for a limited duration, and and reallocate it after some period of time based on a vessel’s performance in achieving the objective, which is reducing bycatch. No one has ever done this, it is uncharted territory, but everyone has talked about it. And so now we are going to take a serious look at it.”
A 7 step program - Like it or not, catch share programs are a preferred tool for federal fishery managers. (In Alaska, 80% of all seafood landings hail from federal waters, from three to 200 miles offshore.) For any fishing town, seven topics should drive the discussions for the new rules that will change local fisheries forever. Here is a sampler from a “nuts and bolts” list compiled by Duncan Fields, specific to Gulf groundfish:
“These programs are all about tradeoffs,” Fields said. “It is all about making policy decisions on what is possible within the overall structure of the program. (More at www.alaskafishradio.com)
Should Alaska’s largest salmon fleet look into downsizing? That’s the question fishermen are posing in an informal buyback poll mailed to Bristol Bay’s 18-hundred plus driftnet permit holders.
We are not promoting it. We are wondering if it would be a good deployment of some of our time and effort - to learn more about it and how it might apply to the specifics of our fishery. The point is to learn more about the pros and cons and that is what we would embark upon if that is what our members encourage us to do,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, run by the drift fishermen and funded with a one percent tax on their salmon catches.
A permit buyback would retire 300 to 500 boats from the Bay fishery. That would bring things closer in line with the ‘optimum number’ declared nearly a decade ago by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. A 2004 CFEC report said between 800 to 1,200 drift permits at Bristol Bay would “represent a reasonable balance of economic, conservation, and fishery management concerns .”
Waldrop said he expects results from the postcard mailer will trickle in over the next month or two.
There’s no deadline. This isn’t a vote it is just an expression of interest. No one is approving us moving into an advocacy position on this. We are simply looking into it and seeing how it might work in the Bay.””
This year marks the 21st year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world.
Laine Welch ©2013