AMCC in the News
By Marissa Wilson, AMCC Board Member
Originally published in the Homer Tribune
A small but formative fraction of my life has been spent gazing out salt-sprayed windows at rugged terrain and open ocean. My father’s silhouette was always incorporated in the scenery, reflected on the glass that shielded our fragile flesh from the elements. As he sat in the helm seat, occasionally leaning forward to alter our course or to study charts that he had known longer than he knew me, I looked out the window and absorbed what it meant to be a fisherman.
Thousands of miles of coastline, spanning from Attu to Port Townsend, have passed like this. The ocean below our vessel once seemed a vast unknown, prodded only by our longline gear in highly specific areas — little lines draped along ridges at particular depths within abstract boundaries. Throughout my adolescence, I became increasingly aware of certain truths surfacing from those depths. Halibut have become smaller, harder to find, and the amount we’ve been allowed to catch has declined significantly. Privately, I became concerned about the fate of our ocean-dependent lifestyle. My father has fished commercially for forty years. With the trend I witnessed, I couldn’t see how I would manage to do the same.
Adulthood brought the sobering realization that problems rarely fix themselves. With my mind set on a serious long-term relationship with halibut, I recognized the importance of understanding my partner and the issues it faced. I diversified my connection by working on a charter boat. Harvesting halibut for my own freezer strengthened the bond. The deeper I got into the world of fish, the more complex but interconnected it revealed itself to be.
Research from the International Pacific Halibut Commission, conducted since the 1920s, has revealed significant information about the lifestyle of the flatfish.
Halibut move offshore to breed in the deeper waters off the continental shelf. Eggs and larvae get carried with the currents in a counter-clockwise direction, turning an area northwest of the Gulf of Alaska into the landing ground — the nursery — for halibut stock. This is where the Bering Sea becomes a focal point in the lifecycle. As they mature, juvenile halibut begin a southern and eastern migration to counter the initial drift. As such, the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, is critical to the abundance of the resource throughout its population distribution.
The groundfish fleet that fishes in the Bering Sea consists of a handful of vessels owned by Seattle-based companies. This small fleet of huge ships drags large nets through the water, targeting groundfish — often shipped overseas for processing and consumption. In the last ten years — since I first started baiting longline hooks — 62.6 million pounds of halibut have been caught and killed in the BSAI as bycatch in those groundfish fisheries, 79 percent of that from one area, the Central Bering Sea.
Most of the halibut scooped up in trawl gear as bycatch are juveniles. Last year in the BSAI, one million halibut were caught in trawls. The average size of those fish: just 4.8 pounds. Beyond the immediate loss of these fish, the depletion of juvenile halibut stock prevents a robust population from maturing and taking hold along the entire coast. Of the juvenile halibut caught in trawl gear, 70 to 90 percent were destined to migrate to the Gulf of Alaska, Canada, Washington, Oregon, and California.
The potential exponential growth of those wasted fish is incalculable, and their documented range makes this a coast-wide issue.
In publications issued by the trawl fleet, the current amount of bycatch is described as inconsequential. Their case is, notably, made in light of the profitability of trawling. Commercial, charter, and subsistence fishers along thousands of miles of coastline would likely disagree about the impact of the loss. Direct users of halibut absorb the negative consequences of a wasteful industry with deep pocketbooks and broad regulatory influence.
I think back to those precious moments of stillness between sets or ports, my tired head resting against a cold salt-sprayed window; reflecting. Will future generations have a robust resource to ponder over?
The coastline I’ve traced is linked by more than the wake of my memories — it’s connected by the processes of life and the power of continuity. Lifestyle preservation is, admittedly, an easy cause to fight for. Culture is the breath of human experience. But protecting personal interests over the health of the environment that sustains us is a plague that has led to the collapse of fisheries all around the world.
To the 2,714 halibut IFQ holders aboard the 1,157 vessels that fish it; the 77 registered buyers of halibut in the 32 communities where those fish land; the thousands of charter captains, deckhands, subsistence fishers, processors, and consumers of halibut: keep the Bering Sea on your radar.
This impacts you.
In June, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will decide whether or not to reduce the cap on Bering Sea halibut bycatch for the first time in decades. It is imperative that they make a meaningful cut, and reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands by 50 percent. Please speak up on this issue, and send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on the issue visit: halibut bycatch.
As Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management/catch shares are coming up at this week’s North Pacific Fishery Management Meeting in Anchorage (Oct. 6-14), we wanted to feature AMCC supporter and Gulf of Alaska fisherman, Alexus Kwachka’s views on the issue. The op-ed below can also be found in the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
Catch shares come at a cost to coastal communities
“We are a fishing community. That’s one aspect of commercial fishing that everyone in Kodiak agrees on. We have an active waterfront and an infrastructure built to sustain our fishing town into the future. We have invested a tremendous amount of money to supply the volume of water and electricity needed to process fish. We’ve invested in a boat yard to maintain our vessels and many support businesses rely on the fleet to make ends meet. We are built on fish.
I have spent the last three decades fishing here and have seen a lot of changes. The change that concerns me the most is a relatively new federal fish policy called catch shares that gives away fishing rights to those fortunate few who are in the right place at the right time. If these fishing rights leave Kodiak – how do we get them back? How does the next generation find and afford these rights?
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is in the midst of developing a new management program for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet. A goal of the new program is to provide the tools to the trawl fleet to reduce bycatch of prohibited species like halibut, Chinook salmon and crab. These valuable species are caught as bycatch in trawl fisheries and are vital to coastal communities for our livelihoods and subsistence. The change is good and management should continually strive to reduce bycatch. However, as I read through the recently released discussion paper outlining the new management program I am struck with a depressing case of Déjà Vu — – are we really going to do this again? Is the State of Alaska really going to support a catch share program, which gives away the fishing rights of valuable groundfish species in the Gulf of Alaska to trawlers who are currently active in the fishery? Why would Alaska and Kodiak residents want to do this again? I understand the need to provide tools for the trawl fleet to reduce bycatch – in fact the trawl fleet has been operating under voluntary cooperative management agreements for years in the Pollock seasons. It appears to be working.
Despite the success of the voluntary coop, the discussion at the NPFMC continues to explore a more permanent solution through a catch share system, which would allocate quota based on a suite of qualifying years. It is all very complicated but at the end of the day it’s the same old thing we know all too well —– give away the rights to a public resource.
Catch shares come at a cost to coastal communities and these costs are well documented. They include loss of access for the next generation, lower crew pay, consolidation and flight of capital to name a few. We know this will happen; it is time to do something different. Community Fishing Associations are authorized in the Magnuson Stevens Act, the law governing our federal fisheries. They serve as a tool to anchor quota into historically dependent coastal communities. A Community Fishing Association can hold quota through an initial allocation and be structured to allow community values such as bycatch reduction, crew shares and community stability to be addressed effectively.
It is time to be proactive and innovative in designing this program. This community must be engaged and as community members we need to speak up.
The trawl industry is at the table, so should the rest of us.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is spending a lot of time talking about this at their meeting in October. Send a letter and share your concerns and hopes for the future of Kodiak as a fishing community. Letters addressing C-7 GOA Trawl Bycatch can be emailed to email@example.com and must be received by September 30th to be included in Council members’ packets.
We need to be at the table, let’s work together to find management programs that work to better this community as a whole.
Longtime Kodiak fisherman, member of the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council”
“The summer of 2014 represented a different kind of summer for Alaska fishermen. While commercial halibut fishermen have had their catch limits reduced for a number of years, this year the reductions hit charter fishermen in Southcentral Alaska as well. Anyone who went out on a charter boat out of Homer, Whittier, Seward, or Kodiak knows that this year, fishermen could only keep one halibut of any size, and the second halibut had to be smaller than 29 inches. Fishermen throughout the Gulf of Alaska faced restrictions on fishing for king salmon as well. While the restrictions hurt, we’re all willing to do our part to help give the struggling king salmon and halibut populations a chance to recover. However, as we all make sacrifices in commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries to support these iconic Alaskan fish species, our attention turns to another group of harvesters that has not been restricted nearly to the same degree — the Gulf trawl fisheries…”
For more on what AMCC is doing to reduce bycatch, click here.
Read, listen to and watch the recent press about the Fishing Community Coalition that AMCC is a part of along with Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, and Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. The group of small boat fishing groups is committed to rebuilding marine ecosystems and restoring fishing economies in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA).
Listen to KCAW’s coverage of the newly formed coalition and check out a neat MSA infographic here.
In the Boston Globe: “Regional fishing associations are uniting in an attempt to strengthen the laws that govern fisheries in federal waters. The groups describe themselves as ‘‘small boat commercial fishing groups’’ from around the country…” Read more.
Watch a clip about the group here at Your Alaska Link.
“As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season…” Listen to the full story on KYUK.
Much of my perspective, direction and good fortune in life can be traced back to my upbringing in Naknek. For someone who has never fished commercially, it was all about the fish. Every job and all revelry governed by the salmon run and the tide. Life in that little town brought endless discovery of old buildings, new trails and increasingly creative ways of trying to get away with something. Anything. So wrapped up in each season, I barely grasped the importance of home in the larger seafood economy. Turns out we’re kind of a big deal. Bristol Bay is one of Alaska’s richest commercial fisheries and provides roughly one-third of all of Alaska’s salmon harvest earnings. The region accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s wild salmon harvest. The best part is the resource and the wealth and well-being that it provides is self-renewing.
Here’s a few more numbers though. Since the inception of limited entry in 1975, local permit ownership has declined from 1,372 to 707. This loss stems from permit transfers to non-locals, but also and increasingly from the out-migration of permit holders from the region. Overall, the region has suffered a net loss of 197 permits since 1975 due to the relocation of permit holders. At the same time, non-resident permit holders have added 260 to their ranks through permit transfers and another 208 permits through migration. Trends toward non-resident permit ownership are exacerbated by a lack of young people entering the industry, a problem commonly referred to as the ‘graying of the fleet.’
Overall, the mean age of a Bristol Bay drift permit holder has only increased from 45.5 years to 47.5 years between 1975 and 2013. Not too bad. The mean age of non-resident drift permit holders has actually decreased since 1975, from 48.3 years to 46.9 years in 2013. This has not been the case for our local drift permit holders, who have seen an increase in mean age from 42.7 years to 50.6 years.
As local permit holders approach retirement age, the potential impacts of succession of access rights on rural livelihoods and coastal economies becomes an increasingly pressing management issue. A lack of local young people entering the industry coupled with the loss of local access and participation in the fishery is disconcerting for many reasons. For starters, young people bring vibrancy, creativity and innovation to a place and an industry. We need engaged young people to help make our communities better, solve the problems we face today, and carry on the ever-changing daily, seasonal and annual practices that give life to local culture and community. Secondly, we know that there is a powerful inter-relationship between commercial and subsistence fisheries and the crucial role that harvesting wild foods plays in maintaining cultural traditions, social identities and food security in rural Alaska. Studies continue to show that households with fishing permits are often also the households that are high producers of subsistence foods and the most important providers in food sharing networks. The intimate entangling of local fishing jobs with these dimensions of local life means that loss of local commercial access extends beyond earned income.
Right now, across Alaska, there are many, many organizations, institutions and communities working to find solutions to sustained local fisheries participation in coastal Alaska. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation offers an incredible permit loan program that is helping to put fishing permits back into local hands. The University of Alaska is working closely with state agencies and others to create and implement the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan intended to better prepare Alaskans to meet our maritime workforce needs. The Alaska Marine Conservation Council recently launched the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, designed to connect young fishermen across the state and identify potential solutions to the specific challenges they face. We are also helping to lead a collaborative research project which focuses on barriers to entry and the ‘graying of the fleet’ in Bristol Bay and Kodiak Island fishing communities. Finally, last summer I spoke with local fishermen in Naknek who had purposely hired local youth, some of whom were entirely green, as crew. Collectively, these efforts are operating at varying scales to create opportunity, enhance inter-generational access and strengthen local participation in local fisheries. This is what makes communities resilient. The problems underlying and arising from the exodus of fishing rights and wealth from our fishing communities are complex, multi-dimensional and diverse. Keeping our communities as strong and healthy as the salmon run takes a lot of work. Ensuring local participation in local fisheries is only one part of what needs to be a multi-faceted approach to enhancing rural livelihoods and local well-being, but it is a vital one.
“Monday, U.S. Senator Mark Begich joined Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to call for a national strategy to address ocean acidification and prevent harm to Alaska and our nation’s commercial fishing industry. The announcement came during a stop at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory to see high-tech buoys that detect changes in ocean conditions…”
Feds’ cutback of observers aboard trawlers plying Alaska waters questioned by judge
“A federal court judge has questioned whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is doing enough to protect salmon and halibut from trawlers whose massive nets strip mine the ocean off the Gulf of Alaska coast…”
Read A wake-up call in Alaska about ocean acidification and coastal communities in the Alaska Dispatch News by Dr. Jeremy Mathis and Steve Colt
Highlight: “Findings indicate that communities in Alaska’s southeast and southwest subsistence fisheries, are also the communities most at risk.”
“A new study was released last week essentially saying something Alaskans have been hearing for quite a while — the acidity levels in Alaska’s fish-rich waters pose an increasingly high danger to the fish and shellfish populations, and therefore, those Alaskans who depend on the oceans for their income and their subsistence stores.”
Read this Alaska Dispatch News article by Carey Restino who says Alaskans should heed new economic warnings of ocean acidification.