At the October North Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting, AMCC staff were most focused on reducing halibut bycatch, or Prohibited Species Catch (PSC), as the trawl cod fleet in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands became rationalized - granted use rights based upon recorded catch history. Bycatch reductions are an expected component of any rationalization program.
The trawl fleet demonstrated tremendous potential when it voluntarily operated with similar behaviors in 2020 and 2021, in response to the pandemic and processor closures. Both years, the cod trawl fleet stood down in January when halibut PSC rates are highest; in 2021, the fleet made additional adjustments as a voluntary cooperative. Combined, this two-year period averaged halibut PSC reductions over 70%. Even when this behaviorally-appropriate PSC encounter rate was applied to years with the highest amount of targeted species catch, a 35% reduction still would not have constrained the fleet.
The initial analysis of prior PSC rates did not include these two important years, and AMCC staff requested their inclusion for the analysis that informed final action.
At the Advisory Panel, AMCC staff successfully amended the motion to change the Council’s Preferred Preliminary Alternative of a 25% reduction of halibut PSC to the maximum under consideration: 35%. Despite this partial success, we still did not vote to move the full action forward, citing the insufficient analysis of fleet consolidation on fishermen, communities, and non-target species. Rationale on this motion also included a call to consider our role as fisheries managers:
“[…] as we describe our relation to fish, each other and communities within the bounds of a market economy, fish are described as common-property resources - meaning they are owned and managed collectively, and long-term benefits must be shared with current and future users. It is worth noting the significant difference between the owners and the holders, or possessors, of the same property.* This balance is our challenge as we collectively grant private use rights to a small portion of the population.”
When a state representative introduced the final motion for the Council’s consideration, the initial PPA of 25% PSC reduction remained their selection, along with a two-year phase-in approach, which was eventually passed.
AMCC staff remain dedicated to illuminating inequities in who profits off our ocean-dwelling kin and who bears the responsibility of their health. Such imbalances have catastrophic results, with expenses paid by communities that have been a symbiotic part of the marine ecosystem for decades; some, for millennia.
To this end, in an effort to contribute to the resiliency of coastal communities, AMCC staff passed a motion at the Advisory Panel that recommended the Council empower its Climate Change Task Force to gather strategies to respond more quickly to climate-driven changes, and build more resilience into the management system in an effort to head off fishery disasters and recover more quickly from those that occur.
The crab crashes in the Bering Sea gave those involved in the Council process enough of a sense of urgency that further analyses were requested, and crab PSC reductions in the cod trawl action were finalized at 35%.
Finally, at this meeting, AMCC staff continued supporting Indigenous-led advocacy to further legitimize Tribal sovereignty through the establishment of dedicated voting seats on the Council, initiation of Tribal Consultation, co-production of salmon bycatch analyses as chum and chinook salmon stocks are not making escapement goals in western Alaska, and more.
While the work of AMCC staff is conducted with inherent significance of ecosystem/community considerations at the core, we are bolstered by every person who engages in this process with those values. Whether your support is through educating yourself and others, providing public comment or oral testimony, or making donations to our organization, your investments grow our power. Thank you, and stick around – December is right around the corner.
*Think of renting a home or leasing a vehicle: destruction of the property by its possessor is costly, as losses impact the owner, and use terms include reasonable constraints.