June 6th to the 14th, Kodiak will host a meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. It is an important meeting, the potential final fencing of the open prairie, as it were, or the dividing up of the Gulf among the trawlers. Item C5, the Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch, of the June agenda contains a range of lengthy alternatives for the Council to consider: Alternative 2, which gives the trawlers their history of groundfish to bring into a co-op, (preferred by the trawlers) and Alternative 3 which gives them a limit on their bycatch of Chinook salmon and halibut to bring into a co-op (introduced by the State of Alaska). GOA trawlers already participate in a limited licenses program (LLP) which prevent new entrants from competing with them unless they have an LLP, but they say they cannot control their group’s “race for fish” and so must be allocated (given) the ownership of the resource.
My concern is that allocating the resource blindly is poor management policy. Blindly, because there is poor data on observed bycatch in the Gulf. Bycatch is the unintended catching of species not targeted. These include halibut, salmon, crab, and other fish and organisms. Current science says that the mortality rate for trawlers of these unintended catches is above 80%. Dead. Meanwhile allowable catches of commercial halibut are something like 70% lower than they were ten years ago, and crab is no longer a viable commercial catch around Kodiak, and King salmon catches are restricted in various streams around Kodiak due to low numbers, and observation of trawling has dropped to less than 30% of all trawl vessel trips in the restructured observer program. It is far lower for all trawl vessel tows.
The complaint is that observers are too expensive for 100% coverage. Nonsense. The loss of our resources, the productivity of our ocean is a far greater loss. Managers have dragged their feet over the option of electronic monitoring (EM) aboard fishing vessels. They claim the data is expensive, incomplete, and doesn’t give them the biological samples they need. The software for facial recognition is readily available, the algorithms for fish recognition is certainly easier to obtain. Observation of fishing should not be confused with biological samples. Such samples are more easily and cheaply gathered at the shoreside off loading points than at sea. Observation and biological sampling should not be lumped. If NMFS wants biological data, let them pay for it.
The unobserved bycatch by trawlers must be reckoned with before such sweeping and irreversible decisions are made. Extrapolations of bycatch built upon ‘models’ is not good enough, never was, never will be. Until such time as 100% observation by human or video monitoring has the hard data, no rights to the Gulf should be relinquished.
I urge you to write your letter to the NPFMC before the May 31st deadline and demand 100% of trawl tows be observed before we hand over the economic life blood of this community to speculation. All the information you need is at the website: http://www.npfmc.org/upcoming-council-meetings
Dave Kubiak is a salmon seine and longline fisherman out of Kodiak.