Policy Update: Council Hears Testimony on Halibut Bycatch Plan

By: Shannon Carroll, Fisheries Policy Director

Last June, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) promised to take further action on halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. Over the course of the past several meetings, the Council has followed through on that promise, developing a draft strategic plan for halibut issues, strategies for improved communication with the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), and a framework for an abundance-based halibut bycatch policy.

During the April Council meeting in Anchorage, the Council voted to continue evaluating an abundance-based approach to halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. This followed a presentation by the abundance-based bycatch workgroup—which consists of Council, National Marine Fisheries Service, and IPHC staff—as well as testimony by halibut stakeholders, including AMCC. The workgroup’s current focus is determining an index for halibut abundance that can, among other things, be used to effectively capture the impact of bycatch removals on Bering Sea halibut. The workgroup will continue analyzing various indicators used to measure halibut abundance and will be holding a public workshop sometime in August. Abundance-based halibut management will likely be on the agenda again in October.

AMCC appreciates the Council and workgroup’s continued effort find a long-term solution to halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. A robust, scientifically-sound abundance index is a key step in this process. We look forward to continuing to providing input on this effort.

More on the full range of issues covered in the April meeting can be found in the Council’s newsletter.

The next NPFMC meeting will be held June 6-14 in Kodiak. At that time, the Council will be hearing community and stakeholder testimony on the the Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management program.

For more information on Council actions and upcoming meetings, visit npfmc.org.

Young Fishermen Bring Their Unique Perspective to Capitol Hill

Date Posted: March 23, 2016       Categories: AMCC Blog       Tags: AMCC on the road, Federal Fisheries Policy, Working Waterfronts, Young Fishermen's Network

Part 2 Blog from the Young Fishermen’s Educational Tour #nextgenfishtour

by Hannah Heimbuch

Hannah, age 30, is a third-generation fisherman. She lives in Homer and drifts for salmon in Cook Inlet and longlines for halibut in the Gulf of Alaska.

The second stop on the Young Fishermen’s Educational Tour after Boston was in our nation’s Capitol. The goal of the D.C. visit was for young fishermen to learn more about federal fisheries policy, including the Magnuson Stevens Act (our nation’s primary federal fisheries law that is up for reauthorization), and also to gain experience in the politics of how federal law is made and the importance of face time with decision makers and their staff.

While our D.C. visit was a flurry of planned activities and meetings on national fisheries policy, one of the highlights were impromptu intersections and quality time spent with Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. During our first day in town we learned Senator Sullivan would be giving a talk on fisheries at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership’s 2016 Public Policy Forum and that Senator Murkowski was giving a floor speech on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Our group quickly got in touch with staff at their offices and hatched plans to see both Senators in action in these different arenas.

With Senator Murkowski, we were lucky enough to be able to tag along as she moved to and from a floor speech in the Capitol building, where she addressed the need for substance abuse recovery assistance.

Representatives of the Alaska Young Fishermen's Network take a break from the busy halls of the U.S. Senate with Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Representatives of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network take a break from the busy halls of the U.S. Senate with Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“On the way to the Capitol, she led the lot of us like goslings through the underground halls of the Senate building,” said Marissa Wilson, one of 12 fishermen trying to keep up with the senior Senator as she marched through basement corridors, mentally preparing for her floor speech and asking us about our time in D.C. The group got to ride the Capitol subway with the senator, squish in tight elevators with her, and watched her floor speech from the family gallery in the Capitol.

While the topic of substance abuse was not head on about fisheries, many from the group understood deeply how intertwined the issue was with coastal Alaska and access to economic opportunities such as fishing. Back in her office after the speech, our group had time to chat further with the senator about community health issues and fisheries. “Conversations on the health of our state and its residents went beyond the lip service we had come to expect on the Hill,” Wilson said. “I felt listened to. It was empowering.”

With Senator Sullivan, we were able to greet the new senator before his arrival at the Reserve Officer’s Association building where he gave a brief speech about the importance of cooperation to manage our fisheries and oceans interspersed with details on the size and importance of Alaska’s fisheries. Sullivan is now lining up to play an important leadership role in federal fisheries policy including on reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act. After the speech, he spent a good amount of time with the group outside the building where we talked fish and expressed sentiments about not rolling back provisions in MSA and protecting fishing opportunities for communities and the next generation. The genuine conversations and time spent with both Alaska senators were a special treat for the group. We thank both Senators Sullivan and Murkowski and their offices for making time for us that day!

For some of our group, it was a first-time trip to Washington, while others had been to the Capitol to talk fish with policymakers before. Traveling as the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, however, was new ground for everyone. It was under the umbrella of this emerging group that we dove into two and a half days in D.C.

Though our young group has more fishing years ahead of them than behind them, we have solid experience with our fishing businesses and the policies that affect them. While not yet veterans to the legislative process, we are highly conversant in the needs, challenges and successes of our fishing communities. Many members of the group noted how important it is as harvesters to be aware of how national policies affect us. In D.C., we gained experience weighing in on policy issues with a strong and united voice.

“After meeting with a group of very receptive advisors to Congress members from Alaska and Washington, it struck me that we were sitting in seats left warm by lobbyists against our precise causes,” noted Darren Platt, a Kodiak-based fisherman.

The young fishermen prepare to hop aboard the U.S Capitol Subway.

The young fishermen prepare to hop aboard the U.S Capitol Subway.

“With goals such as weakening sustainability features of the Magnuson Stevens Act, or bypassing the North Pacific Fishery Management Council through congressional action, there are powerful interests working diligently in the Capitol to undermine the long-term well-being of fishing communities. One can only hope that a group of bright-eyed and passionate young fishermen can form a compelling enough voice to help subvert the influence of these well organized and financially endowed interests.”

Through AMCC’s partnership with other small-boat fishery groups through the Fishing Community Coalition, we were able to observe the complexity of finding common ground among the nation’s diverse fishing interests. We also learned from meetings with policy leaders, congressional staffers, and lobbyists about current issues and how these diverse entities approach policy development.

Fishermen Claire Laukitis (Homer) and [name] (town) chat with Sen. Dan Sullivan (where?).

Claire Laukitis (Homer) and Elsa Sebastian (Sitka) chat with Sen. Dan Sullivan before his talk at the Ocean Leadership Consortium’s Public Policy Forum.

Perhaps most importantly, we tested the waters for our network’s future in this national arena. As an organizer for the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, the most important takeaway for me from our time in D.C. was developing the expectations and goals for our ongoing efforts. Our ability and willingness to be at the table—ready to build relationships and find solutions amongst a diverse group of people and fisheries—is essential to our future in fish.

David Fleming, a trip participant who fishes in Prince William Sound, reflected on his time in D.C. “This was an eye-opening experience that informed me of the political process of fisheries management at the federal level. I gained insightful knowledge that I will pass along to my family and local fishing community.”

The Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network has a strong future to serve as a unified voice for our industry, and as independent, forward-thinking leaders for sustainable fish and fishing communities. We’ve become fishermen in some of the best-run fisheries in the world, and we have high standards for management, equity and conservation. We are also acutely aware of the significant challenges coastal communities and industry leaders across the nation face as policies and fisheries evolve, ecosystems shift, and major economic drivers challenge the stability of and access to our marine resources.

While the halls of state and federal buildings are full of seafood lobbyists advocating for their own interests, our group is working from a unique vantage point: We are well-informed, invested and conscientious food harvesters with our careers at stake; we are intricately dependent on and connected to this natural resource; and as we make choices to build businesses and raise families in the fishing way of life, we are deeply committed to the long-term health of coastal communities and their fisheries.

In short, we are an essential resource for people trying to make good decisions about fisheries management in Alaska and the U.S. This small group—and our many peers at home—are emerging leaders for the next fishing era, with the potential and perhaps the obligation to be far less enamored of status quo policies, aging fish wars and expectations created by yesterday’s catch. As an emerging network of independent fishermen, we are inspired and motivated by the D.C. visit to plan to build our capacity and take serious steps toward growing the skills, knowledge and relationships needed to be excellent leaders and ambassadors for our fisheries.

Reach out Hannah to be part of the growing Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network at hannah@akmarine.org 

Learn more about the Young Fishermen’s Educational Tour and stay tuned to the AMCC website for future blog posts.  

Thanks to sponsors of the Young Fishermen’s Educational Tour: Salmon Sisters, Edible Alaska, United Fishermen of Alaska, BulletProof Nets, United Cook Inlet Drift Association, Marine Fish Conservation Network and many AMCC members!

What’s the Latest on Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch?

Halibut Bycatch Updates

For more than a year, dual concerns regarding declining halibut stocks and community access in the Bering Sea have been a hot button issue for both the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council). Despite committed efforts by a diverse array of stakeholders, the precarious state of the Bering Sea halibut fishery remains uncertain heading into the end of 2015.

International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC)

During its December interim meeting, the IPHC will be releasing its 2015 stock assessment and 2016 harvest decision table. The stock assessment provides managers with the status of halibut throughout its range in the North Pacific, while the harvest decision table guides the Commission’s decision-making as it sets the annual catch limits for 2016. These reports will play a significant role in whether the fishermen in the Bering Sea will have a directed fishery in 2016.

The IPHC is also in a state of transition: in the coming months, the Commission will be hiring a new Executive Director to oversee the IPHC. Additionally, President Obama will make appointments for the two U.S. public seats on the Commission by early 2016. Our hope is that whoever fills these roles will effectively advocate for coastal communities and conservation of the resource, while also bridging the communication and decision making gap between the IPHC and the Council.

More at: www.iphc.int

North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council)

The Council’s December meeting is fast approaching and it is filled with halibut bycatch agenda items. The Council will first take action on 2016 catch limits for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries, where it may consider reducing catch limits for fish with high rates of halibut bycatch. Although an unorthodox approach in some ways, a reduction in groundfish catch limits could provide short-term relief to both the resource and the halibut-dependent communities of the Bering Sea.

With long-term solutions in mind, the Council will also take up two agenda items that could provide significant improvements to halibut management. First, it will continue public scoping on its draft Halibut Management Framework. The draft framework could provide for more regular and meaningful communication between the Council and the IPHC, as well as enhance avenues for stakeholder input. Next, the Council will be reviewing a discussion paper on abundance-based management for halibut bycatch. AMCC fully supports the Council’s efforts to move toward abundance based management, provided the new management approach contains appropriate conservation and community safeguards.

More at: www.npfmc.org/upcoming-council-meetings

Proposed Bycatch Rule

The National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking public comments on the proposed rule that would implement the Council’s bycatch recommendations from this past June. Comments are due December 28, 2015. This is your opportunity to tell the National Marine Fisheries Service that the Council did not go far enough in reducing bycatch.

You may submit comments on the proposed rule via the Federal e-Rulemaking portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2015-0092, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Fish Talk in Our Nation’s Capitol: Magnuson-Stevens and Beyond

By Hannah Heimbuch


Left to right: Frankie Balovich and Jeff Farvor (Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association), Senator Lisa Murkowski, Kelly Harrell and Shannon Carroll (AMCC)

It’s amazing what you can fit into three days. In the case of three Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) staff members this October, it was more than 6,000 miles, a half-day of lobbying training and several dozen meetings with congressional offices, agency leaders, and conservation partners in our nation’s capital.

This trip to Washington, D.C. was my first, and allowed me to witness firsthand what it looks like when diverse groups truly collaborate in pursuit of a better future. This is the promise I see in the Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC).

Presenting as a unified voice on national fisheries policy, the FCC is made up of conservation-minded, community-based fishing organizations that have found common ground in their policy concerns, despite hailing from different corners of America’s coastline. At present, the FCC includes AMCC and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, both from Alaska; the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance, from Texas; and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, both calling New England home.

For a few short, busy days, we joined our partners from the FCC to visit House and Senate offices on Capitol Hill. We were there to introduce ourselves to decision makers from coastal states across the country. Collectively, we spoke to agency leaders and congressional staffers, covering a variety of policy issues important to our small boat fleets: bycatch reduction, electronic/at-sea monitoring, community access to local fisheries, and improved fisheries data collection, and a strengthened Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) reauthorization bill.

Left to right: Frankie Balovich, Hannah Heimbuch and Jeff Farvor

Left to right: Frankie Balovich, Hannah Heimbuch and Jeff Farvor

As House and Senate offices look at options for MSA reauthorization moving forward, the FCC believes it is vital that this important law uphold or enhance current standards of science-based, conservation-minded fisheries management, while also ensuring access for local communities. These essential measures guide the sustainability of our nation’s fish stocks and fishing communities.

In the bycatch realm, we shared important information about the halibut bycatch crisis occurring in the Bering Sea — from the massive removal of juvenile halibut by trawl vessels, to the precarious health of directed halibut fisheries coast-wide. The group reminded congressional delegates of the national importance of the halibut fishery, and of the bad precedent being set, with halibut bycatch becoming the priority use of halibut in the North Pacific.

Group members also voiced a need for progressive policies supporting robust at-sea or electronic monitoring, and cohesion of those practices across Council regions. Issues of insufficient data, major funding challenges, and ease of small-boat monitoring were important coalition-wide, including to small boat fleets in New England deeply concerned about excessive haddock bycatch.

Finally, we communicated the continued need to support local access to fisheries. The coalition shared the success stories and ongoing needs for those access rights by pointing out unique community solutions across the country, such as permit and quota banks, while also pushing for improved community access provisions in the reauthorized MSA.

During our Capital Hill visits, our coalition team divided up into two groups and managed to make 21 meetings with Senate and House staffers in a single day. We covered some significant ground — both under our feet and in our policy work — using our united voice to amplify these important issues. We were able to meet directly with two Alaskan delegates, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young. Sitting next to fellow fishermen and fisheries leaders from around the country, and speaking together for responsible policies, was a truly empowering experience.

It is AMCC’s hope that as we continue to advocate for federal policies that support a sustainable fishing future, we can offer that experience to more of our community fishermen, infusing voices from Alaska’s small boat fisheries into this national arena. We believe it’s particularly vital that young fishermen are given the opportunity to participate in this policy work, something I personally look forward to developing.

Those of us that hope to be fishing for the next 30 years — those of us that want to continue the tradition of fishing families and strong local fisheries — must help to guide the long-term vision of the federal policies that do and will shape management of our marine resources. We must demand robust science- and conservation-based standards that allow fisheries, communities and ecosystems to thrive together.

It was incredibly encouraging to see the FCC paving the way for more community voices — the young and veteran alike — to be heard in a meaningful and collaborative way at a national level. As I head back home to Alaska, it is with the knowledge that our local, regional and statewide work is united with this national conservation ethic, of which AMCC and its members should be proud.

Fishing Communities Coalition Unites Groups on Federal Policy

Date Posted: November 4, 2015       Categories: AMCC Blog       Tags: Federal Fisheries Policy, Fisheries Conservation, Magnuson-Stevens Act, Reduce Bycatch

The Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC) is a coalition of community-based, small-boat commercial fishing groups, representing more than 1,000 independent fishermen and business owners from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska, who share a commitment to the sustainable management of America’s fishery resources. The FCC was formed to strengthen and unify the individual voices of its member organizations, which are the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Cape Cod Fishermen’s Association, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. Together, we work to support thriving commercial fisheries in each of our local communities, while acting as strong stewards of the marine environments off our shores.

Nationally, this group of conservation-minded fishery organizations works together to advocate for small boat fleets in the federal policy arena. We find common ground between our fleets and the complex ecosystems they fish within. The coalition believes it is vital that America’s community-based fleets have a meaningful voice in national fishery decisions. We strive to bring our shared ethics of conservation and community-based fisheries to decision makers, and into the core of national fisheries policy.

Check out the Fishing Communities Coalition’s brand new website, fishingcommunitiescoalition.org, which features regular news updates on issues the FCC works on, including:

  • Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization
  • At-Sea and Electronic Monitoring
  • Bycatch Reduction
  • Permit Banks/Quota

Take Action Now: Reduce Halibut Bycatch in the Bering Sea

Although the North Pacific Fishery Management Council failed to recommend meaningful halibut bycatch reductions in the Bering Sea groundfish fishery this past June, there is still time to tell the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to take action. Ask our Alaskan Congressional Delegation to urge NMFS and the Secretary of Commerce to protect the halibut resource and Alaskan coastal communities.

Please submit this letter and show your support for reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea by October 28, 2015.

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