Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Trawlers lose skirmish with courts

The war for the ecology of the North Pacific fishing grounds roars on back East. Major trawl companies just lost a skirmish with the courts over Amendment 79. Right now, they can throw back 35% of their catch dead, and you know they are high valued species that other fishermen are supposed to catch.

I gotta go get some more trawler pics. I'm going to wear this one out. I offered to meet some trawlers, that wanted to talk to me, on one of their boats for a trip, but they never got back with me.

On the West Coast it's the big processing company, Pacific Group, that is trying to stick it to the little guys. They dropped the price for sole from $1.00 a pound to $.65 without any warning. Everybody tied up after that. Guys that didn't belong to the marketing group, suddenly saw the light.

And we have here a report that a report("Conserving Alaska's Oceans") was reported by a reporting group. If you don't remember any of this, just remember that it's supposed to be really high-falut'in and that North Pacific fisheries managers are admonished to respect the ecology. Which is a little odd considering the report praised the NPFMC in another breath. Which is it, praise or admonishment? We know there isn't even a bycatch limit on the amount of salmon trawlers can catch and discard. We know it's in the hundreds of thousands and lots of them are kings, which the Lower 48 is trying to keep from going extinct in their streams. Then there's the maybe 18 million pounds of halibut the trawlers discard.

Since there is a new round of meetings of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council in Anchorage, I'm including a testimony from a fisherman that takes some considerable exception to what's go'in down. The new Governor takes considerable exception to a lot of what the Council is doing too and has asked it to not even talk about any plans for the Gulf of Alaska fisheries until fall. They have plenty to do to fix the mess they made of the Bering Sea fisheries anyway.

The Guv wants a chance to get up to speed on the issues, even get some fisheries people around her. Makes sense, Rome wasn't built in a day. We're going to support the authority that the voters put in power. My son does it all the time, especially as he starts providing rapid response back-up to the 1st Cav. in Baghdad next month. One reader says I chew nails, heck, I chew grapes compared to Sergeant Enge.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council 181st Plenary Session
Advisory Panel
Re: C-2 GOA Groundfish Management
Public Testimony: Alaska Jig Association
March 26, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Advisory Panel,

I’m Steve Mathieu President of the Alaska Jig Association a commercial fisherman from Kodiak. I own a 32’ Bristol bay gillnetter and have spent the last 24 years drift gillnetting in Bristol Bay. I have fished halibut since 1979 and have 18 years jig fishing around the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak. I’m here representing the Alaska Jig Association.

Once again we are sitting before this body and we have concerns about how this process is being handled. The new problem statement for GOA cod sector split and latent license removal was not available to us until 8am today. Though to come prepared to speak on this new problem statement, we would have needed to receive this brief weeks earlier, so that our organization could review and make recommendations.

The first problem that should be of concern to fishermen and coastal communities is that of diminishing stocks of cod and pollock in the GOA. We as jig fishermen follow the trends of cod and rockfish, as these fisheries are a substantial amount of our yearly income.

Next there has been a rush to rationalize or change the FMP for the GOA groundfish fisheries, but no one has submitted a problem statement that really address the problems of all of the gear groups with over 27 different species to be addressed. We want to help the process by putting these issues on the table and then giving solutions that best address the problems.

· Lack of Observer Coverage to help get a baseline of data, as only 2.8% of total catch was observed in the CG of the GOA in 2006. This percentage is so low that even members of the NPFMC have admitted that there is a problem, as well as 3 sitting AP members in this room.

(AP members: 1.Duncan Fields, 2.Matt Moir, 3. Bob Gunderson, & Al Burch: April 2006 pre-council meeting)

· Bycatch reduction for those gear groups that use indiscriminate catch methods (with higher bycatch) to bring in fish for a directed fishery. .

· The directed Cod fishery should be taken by the gear groups that promote the use of gear with verifiable and monitored low bycatch, and those who harvest fish in a manner that produce a higher value product.

· Entry level opportunities are at an all time low due to IFQs. There is an inverse affect on crewmen’s compensation compared to quota owners’ leases. I.E.: Investor BS crab boat owners extracting exorbitant rents for crab quotas, while deckhands are paid peanuts.

· Communities are dependent on cod for local incomes, especially for vessels 60 and under.

· Incomplete comprehensive stakeholder representation, as well as a process that is not a two way dialogue as mentioned by GAO report # GAO 6-289 on Core Principals and Strategy Approach.

· AFA sideboards have allowed trawl vessels that are non-AFA to cross into the GOA to double dip which takes away TAC from the local trawl fleet.

· Privatization of the fisheries has proven to make big winners and big losers, and the communities are the ones taking it in the shorts.

· If quota allocations are distributed they should be from the directed fishery only, as bycatch should be penalized not rewarded.

We’ve made a list of possible solutions for the given bullet points:

· Increased Observer Coverage for the GOA groundfish fishery, with 33% of the fleets having 365days/or total days at sea coverage in a calendar year and rotating every 3 years. This would enable the whole fleet to give wider band of data with a continued baseline of information. This program could be funded by landing taxes, by NMFS appropriations from Congress, and conservation organizations backing.

· Bycatch reduction can be achieved by increased observation, trawl web size, total net dimensions, size of doors, decreased time length of tows, vessel horsepower limits.

· Increase percentages of the TAC for the fixed gear fleets since they can validly state that they have lower bycatch than the trawl fleet. AS we’ve stated before the jig fleet as almost no footprint on fish habitat and some of the lowest bycatch numbers and almost zero mortality in the groundfish fisheries.

· To provide for entry opportunity a crewmen’s cooperative could be set up. A percentage of the TAC could be allocated to the co-op.

· Possible allocation for communities to form a small vessel cooperative. The community vessel cooperative could retain a portion of the TAC for groundfish.

· If allocations are distributed, they should be fair and equitable to the skipper/crewmen, coastal communities, small vessels and large vessels to protect all of the entities equities and futures and resources’ sustainability.

· It will be necessary to change the approach with stakeholder input, so that there always a two way dialogue, so all participants can be involved in the decision making in the council process for FMP changes.

· AFA sideboards could be modified to allow trawlers to be superexclusive in the GOA.

· If allocations are distributed they should be for directed catch only, bycatch should not be allocated.

The MSA was created to protect fish stocks, habitat and their sustainability. We have provided many solutions to the evident problems of the GOA groundfish fisheries. The NPFMC and the AP has never even ventured into the Bycatch Mitigation Toolbox, and we request that you do so to provide viable solutions. We’re responsible to provide future generations the opportunity to enter into the fisheries with as much confidence as we had.

Steve Mathieu
President-Alaska Jig Association
F/V Kahuna
Kodiak, AK