Commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen and fishing communities find common ground in call for bycatch reduction in the Bering Sea
For more information, please contact:
Hannah Heimbuch, Fisherman & Community Fisheries Organizer at the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, (907) 299-4018
Jeff Kauffman, CEO St. Paul Fishing Company, (907) 952-2476
Simeon Swetzof, Mayor, City of St. Paul, (907) 546-4472
Linda Behnken, Executive Director Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, (907) 747-0695
Across the state, letters and resolutions supporting the reduction of halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) fisheries are surfacing — calling attention to a widespread and diverse movement for change. As directed halibut fisheries in the Bering Sea have reached crisis-level lows, bycatch limits on that same species remains at its decades-long level of 7.3 million pounds. Despite some voluntary bycatch reductions by the fleet, BSAI fisheries killed and discarded seven times more halibut (animals, not pounds) in 2014 than the directed fishery landed in that same region.
For fisherman Jeff Kauffman — an Alaska Native from St. Paul Island and IFQ holder in five IPHC regulatory areas — this represents a trend of inequity that he’s seen grow in his 30 years of halibut fishing. After the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) determines the annual harvest, they take the bycatch numbers off the top. The remainder goes to directed halibut fisheries. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) system determines bycatch limits.
“Halibut bycatch comes off the top,” Kauffman said. “As directed halibut users, we are always last. It’s been very inequitable — the way the situation has been handled. There has been a defacto reallocation from the directed fisheries to the bycatch fisheries.” That reallocation trend has occurred in response to a major conservation concern for the halibut resource. In the last 10 years, halibut quota in the Bering Sea has been reduced by 63 percent in an effort to conserve a dwindling stock.
“Conservation of the halibut stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen,” Kauffman said. “The bycatch allocations have remained relatively the same for decades. We feel that it’s only fair that all users of the halibut resource share equally in the conservation of the resource.”
In June, the NPFMC will take final action on a measure that proposes up to a 50 percent reduction in the cap on halibut bycatch in BSAI fisheries. Across the state, diverse voices have emerged in support of this measure — seen as vital not only for restoring some sort of economic equity to the BSAI fisheries system, but for essential conservation steps. 70 to 90 percent of under-26-inch halibut are slated to migrate out of the BSAI upon maturity. The average size of the one million halibut caught as bycatch in the BSAI in 2014 was 4.76 pounds, less than half the weight of a typical 26-inch halibut. This high rate of juvenile halibut harvest in the bycatch fisheries is troubling to halibut fishing communities coast-wide, and the potential stock impact across the North Pacific has many calling for a change in the status quo.
“As a younger fisherman beginning to invest my future in Alaska’s fisheries, I don’t have any choice but to advocate for a better legacy of management,” said Hannah Heimbuch, a commercial fisherman from Homer and Community Fishery Organizer for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “I want to keep fishing halibut. I want to see fish stocks thriving across the North Pacific coast. I want Alaska to be home to healthy coastal communities that have access to that vital resource. That won’t happen if we continue to prioritize a massive take of bycatch over the directed fisheries. I don’t want to see any fisherman put out of business, but that is what will happen in coastal Alaska if we refuse to include the groundfish sector in the regulatory conservation of the halibut resource.”
On April 15, a group of Alaska legislators sent a letter to the NPFMC, urging them to make a 50 percent reduction in BSAI halibut bycatch to ensure the continued viability of Alaska’s directed halibut fisheries. That letter was signed by Senators Lyman Hoffman, Donny Olson, Dennis Egan and Peter Micciche; as well as Representatives Bryce Edgmon, Bob Herron, Neal Foster, Cathy Munoz, Paul Seaton, Johnathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Dan Ortiz and Jim Colver.
A letter sent this week to the Alaska Congressional Delegation requesting their support in reducing halibut bycatch included the following signees:
Alaska Longline Fisheries Association
Alaska Marine Conservation Council
Alaska Trollers Association
Aleut Community of Saint Paul Tribal Government
Aleutians East Borough
Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Corporation
Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association
City of Saint Paul Island, Alaska
Coal Point Seafood Company
Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association
Halibut Association of North America
Homer Charter Association
North Pacific Fisheries Association
Pioneer Alaskan Fisheries, Inc.
United Fishermen’s Marketing Association
At their April 14 meeting, the Homer Area Advisory Committee for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game discussed and unanimously passed a resolution asking for a 50 percent reduction of halibut bycatch caps in the BSAI. The City of Sitka and the Kenai Peninsula Borough passed similar resolutions earlier this spring, and organizations, committees and city councils around the state are considering passage of the same in the coming month.
Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Salmon Bycatch
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) concluded its April meeting last week following several days of discussion on the issue of salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fisheries. In-river salmon fishermen who are experiencing low returns of king salmon and restrictions on traditional subsistence harvest expressed deep concerns for the conservation of the ailing Chinook population in western Alaska. On the other side was testimony from the pollock fleet unwilling to drop bycatch caps. AMCC supported the western Alaska communities in urging a reduced bycatch cap because of the serious state of the Chinook population and dire circumstances for families who rely on Chinook for local economies and way of life.
The Council adopted a suite of measures anticipated to reduce Chinook and chum salmon bycatch. A key part of the Council’s decision, and the focus of much of the debate, was lowering the hard cap and performance standard for Chinook salmon in times of low abundance. The State of Alaska led a strong charge to provide protections for Western Alaska salmon stocks. Commissioner Sam Cotten put forward a motion calling for a 35% reduction in the performance standard and a 33% reduction in the hard cap. Those numbers were amended by Washington State’s representative to a 25% reduction in the hard cap and a 30% reduction in the performance standard. This lesser reduction is what passed in the Council’s final motion, 10-0. The lower performance standard and hard cap apply in years of low Chinook salmon abundance –years in which the combined total run size for the Unalakleet, Upper Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers is less than 250,000 fish. In years when the stock falls below that boundary, the hard cap would be reduced from 60,000 fish to 45,000, and the performance standard from 47,591 to 33,318.
Beyond the changes to the caps, the Council’s action incorporates important mechanisms to reduce Chinook and chum salmon bycatch in all conditions of salmon abundance. Incentive Plan Agreements (IPAs) create incentives for vessels to reduce bycatch. With this latest action, chum bycatch reduction measures will be incorporated into the Chinook IPA. The Council also added additional provisions to the IPAs — including enacting penalties or restrictions for vessels that maintain higher Chinook bycatch rates than others, requiring the use of salmon excluder devices, and restrictions on bycatch in October, which is historically a time of high bycatch. The options the Council selected under Alternative 4 allow the pollock fishery the flexibility to catch more of their harvest in the late A season, potentially shifting harvest effort away from the high bycatch times later in the year.
On Deck: Halibut Bycatch at June NPFMC Meeting
We leave the April Council meeting behind with a close eye on June’s upcoming halibut bycatch decision in Sitka. The Council will be taking final action to reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries by up to 50 percent. After major declines in the directed fishery over the last 10 years, and a steady rate of bycatch in major groundfish operations, it’s critical that the Council reduces halibut bycatch in June. We will continue to keep you informed in the coming weeks about ways you can help support meaningful halibut bycatch reductions. For more information and past updates on the halibut bycatch crisis, click here.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Anchorage in just a couple of weeks for their April meeting. The meeting week kicks off with the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) meeting on Monday, April 6 and the Advisory Panel starts Tuesday, April 7. The Council itself starts up Wed., April 8 and runs through April 13. The big item on this agenda is final action on Bering Sea salmon bycatch, with a focus on reducing both chum and Chinook salmon bycatch. With Chinook salmon populations in severe decline throughout Western Alaska, and complete closures of even the subsistence fisheries on the Yukon River, it’s critical that the Council takes meaningful action to reduce bycatch at this time. The Council will also take final action on allowing longline pot fishing for sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska and will discuss ecosystem-based management in the Bering Sea.
*Comments on all agenda items are due by 5pm on Tuesday, March 31 – email to email@example.com (See below for more details about the issues and how to comment).
Bering Sea Salmon Bycatch
Final action on salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery is certainly the headlining act at the April Council meeting. The action before the Council considers changes to chum salmon bycatch reduction measures to provide for greater reduction of chum salmon bycatch and better integration of chum and Chinook salmon bycatch measures. Given the disastrously low Chinook salmon runs in Western Alaska, Chinook salmon bycatch is the major focus of this action. While caps on Chinook salmon bycatch have been in place since 2011, the rapid and dramatic declines in Chinook salmon populations necessitates changes to these caps and management measures to respond to the current crisis. The options (Alternatives) which the Council is considering include:
- Alternative 2: Combining Chinook and chum salmon bycatch measures to ensure that chum bycatch reduction efforts do not increase Chinook salmon bycatch;
- Alternative 3: Requiring changes to the Incentive Plan Agreements to achieve greater bycatch reduction. Options include penalizing vessels with consistently high bycatch, requiring use of salmon excluders, and specific changes to operation of the plans.
- Alternative 4: Changing the start and/or end dates of the pollock fishing season and distribution of pollock quota between seasons to minimize bycatch;
- Alternative 5: Reducing the performance standard (currently 47,591 Chinook salmon) and possibly also the hard cap (currently 60,000) for Chinook salmon bycatch by 25% – 60% in times of low abundance of Western Alaska Chinook salmon stocks.
To ensure that Chinook salmon bycatch is reduced in times of low abundance, and to ensure that when subsistence fisheries are closed the pollock fishery bycatch is greatly reduced as well, it is critical that the Council takes final action at this meeting and puts new regulations into effect quickly. We join with many Western Alaska groups in asking the Council to reduce the overall cap and performance cap for Chinook salmon bycatch by the maximum under consideration (60%) in times of low salmon abundance (Alternative 5, option 2, with the suboption to apply the 60% reduction to the overall hard cap). Alternative 2 and Alternative 3, options 1-5, should be selected as well.
Gulf of Alaska Sablefish Longline Pots
Also on the docket for the April Council meeting are measures to allow fishermen to use longline pots to harvest sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska with a goal of reducing whale predation. The Council will take final action on an amendment that would allow the use of pot longline gear by Gulf sablefish operations fishing IFQs. In addition to the reducing the fishery impact of whale predation on longline gear, the Council is also considering ways to reduce gear conflicts between pot and longline fishermen harvesting in the same area.
Amid the constant bustle of management issues, the Council is also doing some proactive thinking to further their work on ecosystem-based management. At the April meeting, the Council will hear a report from the Ecosystem Committee and continue to discuss the utility of undertaking a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Bering Sea. An FEP provides an opportunity for the Council to look at fisheries management in a more holistic context, rather than in the single-species context under which current management occurs. AMCC is actively engaged in this work and is encouraging the Council to move forward with an FEP for the Bering Sea.
How to Comment:
- Send written comments by 5pm on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 to firstname.lastname@example.org or
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
605 West 4th Ave, Suite 306
Anchorage, AK 99501
Fax: (907) 271-2817
Include your name, affiliation, and date, and identify the agenda item in the subject line.
- Provide testimony: The Council takes testimony on every agenda item. The meeting starts April 6 and runs through April 13 at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel. To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins. View the schedule here.
Other Ways to Participate:
- Listen online: Visit https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/april2015 for live broadcast of the Council meeting.
- Support AMCC’s work on these important issues: AMCC has staff at every Council meeting, advocating for the health of our marine ecosystems and fishing communities. Donations from members like you are essential to maintaining our role at the Council. Help support our work by investing in healthy oceans and coastal communities today: donate now.
For More Information
The Council posts analyses, public comments, motions and other documents linked from their agenda. Just scroll down to the agenda item you’re interested in. For the full Council agenda, schedule, and more on the April meeting, visit: www.npfmc.org/upcoming-council-meetings
By Hannah Heimbuch, Community Fisheries Organizer
At the end of February, while Homer basked in 40-degree weather, I ventured out for a visit to a very wintery New England. In Gloucester I was able to spend three days with members of the Fish Locally Collaborative, a diverse group of marine conservationists that work to create a healthy ocean through community based fisheries and other important efforts.
This valuable face-to-face meeting allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding of the unique members and joint capacity of the FLC. I have a broader understanding of the social, environmental and economic movements taking shape within the marine conservation world, and how our work in Alaska informs and is informed by those efforts.
I was particularly excited to hear about the ways other organizations have translated positive energy and good ideas into meaningful actions for healthy marine ecosystems, and marine based coastal economies. I met leaders of the Slow Fish movement, individuals doing important research into community-based fisheries models, sustainable seafood marketers building direct relationships between chefs and fishermen, and many others. The diverse projects and programs being run by the independent members of this collaborative reflect a worldwide community of people working hard for sustainably managed fisheries and strong fishing communities.
After several days of conversation with these inspiring people, I ventured up to Portland, Maine for visits with our marine conservation colleagues in the north. An FLC member from Penobscot East Resource Center let me hitch a ride with him up from Gloucester, and gave me the rundown on Maine lobster fishery management. The next day I met with Susie Arnold from the Island Institute to talk about Ocean Acidification awareness and research. (Click here to see an excellent video on ocean acidification that AMCC collaborated with the Institute to create a few years ago.)
I met Lucy Van Hook from the Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association to talk community fisheries. Hugh Cowperthwaite from Coastal Enterprises Inc. took a chilly walk with me through some of Portland’s small, thriving fish markets as well as the Portland Fish Exchange. The PFE is a seafood auction warehouse — one of only a handful on the eastern seaboard — that handles nearly 100 percent of Maine’s finfish. I wrapped this incredible visit up with a conversation with Alexa Dayton from Gulf of Maine Research Institute. I learned about the Marine Resource Education Program’s work to offer expert training to marine industry workers on fisheries management and science, further empowering fishermen to weigh in on the decisions and research that impacts their coastal ecosystems and economies. Before leaving Alexa showed me around the gear lab at GMRI, where engineers work closely with fishermen to improve their gear and practices for sustainable fishing.
I flew out of Boston with much food for thought and landed in the other Portland. While in Oregon, before making my way home to Alaska, I headed to the Pacific Coast to participate in the Fisherpoets Gathering in Astoria. A whole event just for fisherpeople who write? Sounds like the place for me. To be sure, I found my people on the waterfront that weekend. One of the first people I saw walking down the sidewalk in downtown Astoria was AMCC member and fisherpoet, Steven Schoonmaker. I visited an old wooden seiner, the owners of which are Kodiak fishermen that have long participated in the event (a photo of me next to the seiner is pictured right). I read some of my own work, and listened to funny, beautiful and profound stories from many others — including AMCC Board Member, Emilie Springer. Brad Warren from Global Ocean Health, in addition to sharing some fantastic music at the evening events, gave an excellent talk on ocean acidification at the Maritime Museum. I was also able to see the new film The Breach, an incredible look at salmon throughout human history. This event is an excellent showcase of the deep and complex connections that coastal communities have to our oceans and the traditions and work that take place on and alongside them. It comes out in our professional work, in the skills we pass down to our children, and in the art we create to celebrate it.
What an incredible two weeks, packed with information and introductions that will serve to enrich my work in marine conservation for years to come.
by AMCC Homer Staff, Hannah Heimbuch
In recent years, halibut stocks have continued to decline in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands fishery, forcing fishermen to weather significant quota cuts. As the region looks at another decline in quota — to be determined at the upcoming meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) in late January — the pressure is on to reduce Bering Sea trawl halibut bycatch caps as well.
The IPHC staff recommendations for 2015 propose reductions to allowable harvest by directed halibut users of more than 70 percent for areas 4CDE in the central Bering Sea. The IPHC has no direct authority over the amount of halibut taken as bycatch and relies on policy makers on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) to regulate bycatch of halibut. If bycatch caps remain unchanged, 2015 could see a stark disparity between bycatch and directed halibut harvest — approximately 13 to one. That’s one fish landed and sold by halibut fisherman, compared to 13 caught and discarded as bycatch. As Bering Sea halibut fishermen experience record lows, this disparity has become economically crippling.
The Council considered a bycatch measure at its December meeting in the process of considering catch limits for the 2015 groundfish fisheries. During the harvest specification process they took up a request for emergency action to reduce halibut bycatch limits in the Bering Sea by 33 percent. This measure failed to pass by one vote, with the council split on a 5/5 vote and the Alaska contingent united in favor of emergency action. The sixth Alaska council member was absent due to kidney transplant surgery.
Since that time, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner along with the other five Alaska members of the Council submitted a letter to the United States Secretary of Commerce requesting action on this emergency measure. We (AMCC) submitted a letter supporting that request, as did the North Pacific Fisheries Association, the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association and a contingent from St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea — including the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, the City of St. Paul, the Tribal Government of St. Paul and the Tanadgusix Corporation. There is not only a clear need, but significant and diverse support throughout the fishing industry and its communities for a reduction in bycatch caps.
“Juvenile halibut leave the Bering Sea and populate areas all over the state as they mature,” wrote longtime Bering Sea fishermen and AMCC founding member Buck Laukitis in a recent editorial. “What happens in the Bering sea matters to everyone from Nome to California when it comes to halibut populations.”
A proposed reduction of BSAI halibut bycatch caps by up to 35 percent is currently scheduled for analytical review at the February Council meeting, with final action on the item slated for June. AMCC continues to support a reduction in bycatch caps through this Council process, but believes strongly that the BSAI halibut fishery meets the standards that the Magnuson-Stevens Act outlines for emergency action. Failure to take this action, in light of imminent quota reduction in the directed fishery, is likely to cause substantial harm and disruption to the halibut fishery and those dependent on it, before standard rule-making procedures can be carried out. AMCC supports an immediate reduction in BSAI halibut bycatch caps in time for the 2015 fishery — an emergency action by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce allowed for under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and warranted by the current state of the fishery.
International Pacific Halibut Commission — Vancouver, British Columbia — Jan. 26-30
North Pacific Fishery Management Council — Seattle, WA — Feb. 2-10
Joint Meeting of the IPHC and the Council — Seattle, WA — Feb. 5
How to Participate:
Comment: To submit comment for consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, send written comments by Tuesday, Jan. 27 2015 to email@example.com. The comments must identify the submitter by legal name, affiliation, and date, and must also identify the specific agenda item by number.
To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins.
NPFMC: Visit https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/february2015 for live broadcast of the Council meeting.
IPHC: Visit http://www.iphc.int/meetings-and-events/annual-meeting.html for updates on the IPHC annual meeting including webcast information.
For More Information — check out this recent article from the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
Another Big Agenda for the North Pacific Council
Summer fishing season is winding down so it’s time for meeting season to pick up! The North Pacific Fishery Management Council holds their meeting in Anchorage October 6-14 at the Hilton. As always, there are a number of issues of importance to fishermen, fishing communities, and the marine ecosystem. Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management/catch shares, the observer program and Bering Sea ecosystem top our list of things to watch at this meeting. The schedule can be found here, and the full agenda can be found here. All discussion papers are available via the agenda. Keep reading for a quick look at what AMCC is tracking this meeting and more information about how to participate!
- Observer Program: Under the new restructured observer program which went into effect in 2013, the Council reviews the annual deployment plan for the following year. At the October meeting they’ll review the proposed 2015 deployment plan which outlines how the National Marine Fisheries Service intends to deploy observer to vessels fishing in the North Pacific in 2015. There are some significant changes recommended which include moving all small fixed gear boats (40 feet-57.5 feet), into the trip selection category – all vessels will now have observers deployed on a trip by trip basis. Exemptions to carrying observers will only be issued to vessels in the small vessel category that do not have sufficient life raft capacity to carry an observer, or are participating in Electronic Monitoring pilot projects. For 2015, NMFS is proposing to increase coverage on the large vessel category (all trawl vessels and fixed gear vessels above 57.5 feet) to 24% for 2015. Smaller vessels will be covered at a rate of 12%.
- Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management (aka catch shares or rationalization): The Council is continuing to look at changes to the current management system in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries to provide the fleet with “tools” to adjust how and when they fish in order to reduce bycatch. At this meeting the Council will review an analysis of their framework proposal for the catch share program, and may move forward with outlining alternatives (or options) for a formal analysis. AMCC has two primary focuses on this issue. First, is ensuring that the catch share program delivers on the promise to reduce bycatch, and doesn’t just provide tools for the trawl fleet to adapt to the current limits. We’re asking the Council to include meaningful reductions from the current Chinook salmon and halibut bycatch limits as part of the program. Our other focus is making sure that fishing communities are not negatively impacted by the catch share program. We’re working on this with the Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition (GOACCC) and other community leaders in the Western and Central Gulf of Alaska. With this group we’re advocating for a variety of community protections, including consolidation limits, protections for crew and others. The central component of this work is a direct allocation of quota to the fishing community via a Community Fishing Association (CFA). The Council will receive an analysis of our proposal for a CFA at the October meeting, and will decide whether or not to include a CFA in their program structure. A CFA will provide a mechanism to anchor quota in the community, support new generations of fishermen and crew and amplify community benefits. Learn more and view the CFA Proposal.
- Bering Sea Ecosystem Planning: At the October meeting the Council will discuss ecosystem planning and a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Bering Sea. They’ll hold a public hearing on the Bering Sea FEP on Thursday, October 9 from 5:30-7. The Council is contemplating how a Bering Sea FEP could add value to the current fishery management plan. AMCC sees this as a valuable opportunity to move forward in our fishery management model and formalize management from an ecosystem, rather than single species perspective.
How to Participate
- Attend the Council meeting or listen online: The Council takes public comment on every agenda item. The meeting starts Oct. 6 and runs through Oct. 14 at the Anchorage Hilton downtown. You can also listen to the Council meeting streaming on-line at: https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/october2014/
- Support AMCC’s work on these important issues: AMCC has staff at every Council meeting, advocating for the health of our marine ecosystems and fishing communities. By donating and becoming a member, you play an essential role in advancing sustainable fisheries policy in Alaska. Help support our work by making a gift today.