Thank you for being a valued part of our Alaska Marine Conservation Council community and for supporting our efforts to keep Alaska's wild fisheries and oceans healthy and fishing opportunities in our coastal communities. I want to share a timely and consequential update about the Bristol Bay Red King Crab closure, what solutions AMCC is advocating for and how you can help.
The Context. A few weeks ago, AMCC staff attended the October North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) meeting in Anchorage. Attending these meetings every two months, as AMCC has for almost three decades, allows us to monitor and inform the rules being considered by those appointed to manage our fisheries in the North Pacific.
As we sit in these days-long meetings and attentively observe through the lens of our mission, we ask: Are Alaska's fisheries being managed… Sustainably, with the conservation of our marine ecosystems and future generations in mind? So that community-based fishermen have access to these common-property resources? Equitably and representative of diverse viewpoints? Currently, we believe there's a lot that can be improved.
At a time when we are confronted with the distressing reality that the health of our oceans and the life within them are under existential threat, the current management system benefits industrial-scale fishing fleets, whose fishing practices result in destruction of essential fish habitat and bycatch of salmon, halibut and crab. At the same time, the consolidation of fishing privileges into more powerful fleets impacts Alaska's community-based fishermen who can't compete.
This is why AMCC continues to work in earnest to elevate our collective voices at NPFMC meetings and why I'm requesting your urgent support again to help us advance solutions. Because, whether directly or indirectly, we are all impacted by their decisions.
Red King Crab & the Loss of Critical Habitat. A troubling example of our current reality is the recent news about the emergency Bristol Bay Red King Crab closure for a second year. The NPFMC recommended this because the population continues to decline, despite efforts to rebuild it.
AMCC is focused on a key consideration underrepresented in the NPFMC's rebuilding plans - damage to essential Red King Crab habitat caused by pelagic trawl gear. This midwater fishing gear, used to harvest species like pollock, is not supposed to be on the bottom of the ocean. Yet research presented to the NPFMC in April 2022 illuminated an alarming discrepancy in this assumption. At the most critical times for the crab, nets are actually on the seafloor upwards of 70% to 90% of the time.
Massive nets dragging along the seafloor can destroy critical crab habitat and also crush crab outright, resulting in unobserved mortality. Especially problematic is that the pelagic trawl fleet is allowed to fish in the protected waters of the Red King Crab Savings Area, based on the incorrect assumption their gear does not substantially affect the seafloor. AMCC’s concern about habitat destruction for corporate profit extends from the near to long-term impacts on Alaska’s fisheries, fishing communities and all ocean biodiversity.
What AMCC is Advocating & How You Can Help. At the October NPFMC meeting, AMCC requested immediate and meaningful adaptations to allow Red King Crab the chance to rebuild to include protecting the habitat critical for supporting all their life stages, addressing unobserved mortality from fishing gear and more. (You can read our letter here.) Because while midwater trawl gear is likely not alone to blame in the stock’s decline, the NPFMC must take measures to understand it as a contributor. Ultimately, the NPFMC deferred deciding on a rebuilding plan until their December meeting.
Rest assured, AMCC will be at this meeting with our partners and allies to advocate for what we know to be fair and responsible. Please join us in our call to action by signing the petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service by December 2nd!
Thank you for considering our requests, your generosity and being a valued part of our community.