Catch shares part of plan to reduce Gulf of Alaska bycatch

Fishing industry stakeholders and federal managers in June will begin crafting a bycatch reduction plan for trawl groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska. It will include some form of catch share plan, and as the main delivery port for more than $100 million worth of pollock, cod, flats and other fishes, Kodiak is closely guarding any giveaways.

It’s similar to a chess game, said Duncan Fields, a lifelong Kodiak fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council charged with designing the new plan.

“You have multiple moving pieces and every time you move a piece, it impacts all other pieces on the board,” Fields explained at a recent panel discussion in Kodiak. “You have your queen and your king — those might be your primary policy goals — but if you can get that pawn to the other end of the board, that becomes a queen. Sometimes the little components of a catch share or rationalization program can become equally as important as the big parts.”

“The big question is how you win, collectively, as a community,” he added. “That revolves around defining the goals and objectives early on. At the cusp of developing a program for the Gulf of Alaska, we have to appreciate the long term nature of the decisions we may make.”

Fields said he believes mirroring catch share modes being used so far in Alaska (halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab fisheries) “will not bring a good result to the Gulf.”

Any new plan must be very inclusive, said Nicole Kimball, the State of Alaska’s federal fisheries advisor.

“We need to recognize the interests and investments and the dependence of all sectors, so there shouldn’t just be a vessel-based program or one just focused on processor interests or the community. It needs to be all three,” Kimball said.

In addition to bycatch reduction, the State wants the new plan to limit consolidation.

“It’s understood that can have a very negative effect on community stability and employment opportunities in fishing, processing and all the support industries,” she added.

Kimball said she is “constantly hearing” that the groundfish program needs to have improved monitoring and reporting, and it should also keep tabs on social and economic impacts of the management shift.

“The Council has embarked on a collection project to get baseline data on those kinds of questions that don’t get asked on fish tickets, or from eLandings,” she said.

The loudest and clearest message Kodiak had for Kimball was that any new program should not include permanent groundfish giveaways. She said the Council will explore many kinds of limited duration and allocative quotas, some never tried before.

“We are looking at the ability to allocate quotas for a limited duration, and reallocate it after some period of time based on a vessel’s performance in achieving the objective, which is reducing bycatch,” she said. “No one has ever done this, it is uncharted territory, but everyone has talked about it. And so now we are going to take a serious look at it.”

Catch shares: A 7-step program

Like it or not, catch share programs are a preferred tool for federal fishery managers. (In Alaska, 80 percent of all seafood landings hail from federal waters, from three to 200 miles offshore.) For any fishing town, seven topics should drive the discussions for the new rules that will change local fisheries forever. Here is a sampler from a “nuts and bolts” list compiled by Duncan Fields, specific to Gulf groundfish:

1. Who gets the fish and why. Vessel owners only? Directed species or bycatch species only?  Would you distribute only by history? If so why or why not?

2. What kind of access right would be given to the fishery resource. Would access only be through co-ops? Would any open access fisheries be preserved as a way to address entry-level issues? How will consolidation be limited or restricted. What about caps and leasing and transfer issues? Would the number of vessels be reduced? Would there be a qualification based on vessel ownership, and for experience or active participation.

3. Who gets to process the fish and why.

4. Community interests — what do we protect: infrastructure, jobs, volume, taxes, local businesses, residency, new community opportunities.

5. How do we motivate and integrate gear conversions? As stewards of the resource, we have a responsibility to also think about habitat protections.   

6. How will this new fishing program change current practices and the industry relationships built over time, between fishermen and their crews or processors and fishermen.

7. What is the mechanism for programmatic review and change?

“These programs are all about tradeoffs,” Fields said. “It is all about making policy decisions on what is possible within the overall structure of the program.”

Downsizing drift fleet?

Should Alaska’s largest salmon fleet look into downsizing? That’s the question fishermen are posing in an informal buyback poll mailed to Bristol Bay’s 1,800+ driftnet permit holders.

“We are not promoting it. We are wondering if it would be a good deployment of some of our time and effort — to learn more about it and how it might apply to the specifics of our fishery,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

A permit buyback would retire 300 to 500 boats from the Bay fishery. That would bring things closer in line with the “optimum number” of between 800 to 1,200 declared nearly a decade ago by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

“There’s no deadline. This isn’t a vote it is just an expression of interest. No one is approving us moving into an advocacy position on this. We are simply looking into it and seeing how it might work in the Bay,” he said.

12/06/2016 - 12:20pm