A report in the online publication Politico contends that while nearly 250 trawl boats continue to have banner seasons, harvesting between 3-4 billion pounds of fish annually, the Alaska fisheries overall are collapsing.
The report, produced in partnership with Type Investigations – where the article’s author, Adam Federman, is a reporting fellow – states that what makes this inequity especially jarring is that the trawlers are dragging huge nets long the sea bottom, scooping up millions of pounds of species they don’t want and most of that catch is thrown overboard, no matter its value.
That undirected bycatch includes roughly two-thirds of the total halibut caught in the Bering Sea since 2006, most of which is dumped back in the ocean, Federman said.
In 2021, while subsistence fishermen were prohibited from fishing for Chinook and chum salmon on the Yukon River, pollock boats harvested over a half million individual salmon from the Bering Sea. And while red king crab and snow crab fisheries have been closed this year, the trawl industry is still allowed to discard up to 4.3 million individual snow crab and 32,000 red king crab, Federman wrote.
The hundreds of millions of dollars sucked out of the Alaska economy by the unintended catch of halibut, crab and salmon by the trawlers has been the subject of hot debate at federal and state fisheries meetings for years.
Meanwhile, evidence is growing from government agencies – including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, conservation groups and fisheries scientists — that the trawl fisheries are causing serious damage to marine habitat and the vast harvests of pollock, an important food source for other species, including fur seals and Steller sea lions, is causing disruptions to the larger ecosystem.
Federman’s report also contends that in some ways conflicts of interest are built into federal fisheries management and have become entrenches, with industry representatives or commercial operators with ties to the trawl fisheries frequently serving on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal regulatory body that regulates the industry, and votes on policy that affects their sector.