How do you solve a problem like bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries?
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council devoted hours of its fall meeting in Anchorage to that question, finally emerging with a motion calling for analysis of a number of alternatives and options.
The three alternatives to be considered include taking no action, a trawl bycatch management program for the Western Gulf, Central Gulf and West Yakutat area, and an alternative with a community fisheries association allocation or adaptive management program.
In considering a bycatch management program for trawl fisheries in the Western Gulf, Central Gulf and West Yakutat area, the council wants details on the pros and cons of 14 related topics, with possible options. These include observer coverage and monitoring, sector eligibility and allocated species to allocations of target and secondary species, voluntary inshore and catcher processor cooperative structures, the stability of fishery dependent communities, gear conversion and regionalization of target species quota.
In considering the third alternative, the bycatch management program for trawl fisheries, with community fisheries associations or an adaptive management program, there are a number of options to be analyzed, from how the CFA would provide a community sustainability plan to goals and objectives for these programs.
“…the halibut biomass in the North Pacific has plummeted over the past decade, with survey catch rates in some areas now at historic low levels. Many salmon stocks are imperiled, with low abundance levels triggering closures of commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries. The fishermen who have depended on these fisheries for sustenance or livelihood are struggling with significant and ongoing hardships,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in written testimony.
“In the Gulf, catch limits for the directed halibut fishery have been reduced 73 percent on average while trawl bycatch limits have been reduced 15 percent—with the reduction phased in over three years. This gross inequity indicates a dramatic imbalance in existing management, which is clearly skewed toward optimizing yield over minimizing bycatch, protecting historical fisheries, and providing for the sustained participation of fishery dependent communities.”
Theresa Peterson, a commercial harvester from Kodiak who is employed by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, supported community fishing associations.
“A CFA provides a means to anchor quota in the community, provides a mechanism for providing for entry transition into the fishery, and provides a flexible mechanism for responding to other community concerns as they arise.
The initiative to implement trawl catch shares in the Gulf would have adverse impacts to the operational, economic, social and cultural characteristics of Kodiak and other Gulf pot cod fisheries, said Jeff Stephan , director of United Fishermen’s Marketing Association.
“I understand and do not censure the trawl sector’s interest to improve their profitability, cost, operational and other economic efficiencies,” Stephan said. “I am nonetheless concerned that the trawl catch share initiative has been successfully inculcated with the doctrine of presumed “tools” needed to reduce the prohibited species catch of Chinook salmon and halibut, and absent the acceptance or recognition of the need to carefully and fully evaluate the impacts to the pot cod fishery, Stephan said