Gulf of Alaska Trawl Fishermen Cease Fishing
'Don’t Experiment With Our Fisheries!'
Concerned For Their Future, Gulf of Alaska Trawl Fishermen Cease Fishing To Take A Message To The North Pacific Fishery Management Council: Don’t Experiment With Our Fisheries!
A majority of Gulf of Alaska groundfish trawlers will voluntarily suspend fishing in order to attend the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Portland, Oregon the first week in February. They are concerned that the recent State of Alaska proposal to restructure their fisheries would seriously harm their livelihoods and the economies of their fishery dependent communities.
Instead of harvesting fish and pursuing their livelihood, many of the vessel owners, skippers and crew that deliver into Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove will travel over 3,000 miles round-trip to express their concerns to decision makers at a fisheries management meeting in Portland, Oregon.
“This is really quite unique,” said Julie Bonney, Executive Director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank based in Kodiak, Alaska. “Fishermen agreeing to stand down, essentially losing income, in order to make this trip to provide their input demonstrates just how important this change in management is to the fishing industry.”
All of these vessels compete with each other, and the fact that there has been a consensus among these competitive fishermen to stop fishing and go to the meeting underscores the urgency they feel.
“The state really upset the apple cart by proposing a completely different approach to manage these fisheries and it was pretty late in the game,” said Heather Mann, Director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative. “The meeting in Portland is the first opportunity for harvesters and processors directly impacted by any new management program to provide their valuable input on the state’s recent proposal,” continued Mann, “as the new alternative was added late in the October 2015 Council meeting with little opportunity for public comment until now.”
“Fishermen prefer to be on the water,” said Kiley Thompson from Sand Point, Alaska and president of Peninsula Fishermen’s Coalition, “plying their trade and harvesting fish, not traveling thousands of miles to stand in front of a large group of decision makers and other stakeholders to provide public testimony.” Bob Krueger, president of Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, continues, “This change in management is so very important to the livelihoods of industry participants and the Gulf of Alaska communities they support that they are suspending their business activities (without pay) and traveling on their own dime in order to provide their input. This really says something about the dedication of these fishermen and their willingness to do what they feel is necessary to engage in the process.”
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, charged with managing federal fisheries off the state of Alaska, meets from February 1st through the 9th in Portland, Oregon. The NPFMC is made up of voting members from Alaska, Washington and Oregon and meets five times per year in varying locations. Currently, the Council is in the process of considering a major change to how they manage Gulf of Alaska groundfish trawl fisheries. While a rationalized management program has been under consideration in one way or another for over two decades, the Council is now finally poised to follow through on a promise to the industry that ends the competitive race for fish and provides fishermen with the much needed tools to successfully harvest groundfish while simultaneously providing the incentives they need to avoid unwanted catch such as salmon and halibut.
Harvesters and processors directly impacted by a new management regime have worked collectively over recent years to develop a cooperative fishery approach that stops the race for fish. The Council process is very transparent, allowing stakeholder input at each step. However, after the change in state leadership in late 2014, the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced that their preference was for a very different approach to management than the program put forth by the previous Commissioner that was designed with significant input from impacted stakeholders.
The stand-down impacts the three Alaska communities of Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove and virtually all of the seafood processors located in those communities. The Council currently has the “Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management” agenda item scheduled for Thursday, February 4th and the large contingent of fishermen will begin arriving in the few days leading up to that.