Saturday, May 14, 2011

A trawl crewman's story of Prohibited Species Catch

The West Coast Hake fishery historically has had problems with the catching of endangered rockfish species. These problems are a result of incidental catch and unreported by-catch. The West Coast trawl fleet, which is heavily dependent upon the Hake fishery, prosecutes this fishery in a manner that results in catches of rockfish that are biologically unacceptable for the existence of some species. This resulted in management tactics to reduce by-catch and encourage cleaner fishing.

The tactics used to reduce this by-catch were the removal of the at-sea observer program and the implementation of Cameras with the goal of 100% retention and recording of by-catch. The result of these tactics were the reward of the most criminal of fish processors and their fleet and the harm of those who honestly did business. To illustrate this I will take you through a trip.

We untied from the dock, headed for the grounds, our gear in the trawl alley ready to set. After steaming North and West to a suitable edge we began the search for fish, the Captain expertly finding them. The gear was set and several passes were made, our goal for the tow being 150,000lbs. This volume ensured that any endangered rockfish were sufficiently diluted within the haul. After the Cod-end trigger mechanisms indicated it was full we began to haul. A short time and a few minor details later and the net was aboard, the sausage shaped cod-end hanging out the stern-ramp of the boat. Hatches were removed from the hold and winches attached to the Cod-end.

As it came into the trawl alley a "zipper", a special row of meshes held together with a "zipper knot" that when pulled would release a large hole horizontally across the section, on the cod-end was pulled. Then the Cod-end was brought further aboard until the zipper aligned itself with the open hatch and fish flowed from the Cod-end. This was done in an expedient manner and after the popping of several zippers the remainder of the bag was dumped on deck and we prepared the net to set again.

After filling the boat in this manner we would make haste to align ourselves with the pump. Upon arrival the hatches would be removed and the processor would begin offloading the catch. This was done through the use of a pump and conveyor system, the fish being moved from the boat and onto a sorting belt. As the fish moved across the belt By-catch and weighbacks was removed into totes and the Target species continued on into the processing facility to be processed. Totes of Bycatch were seen to be moved by fork-flit to a grinder, where they would be disposed of unrecorded.

So...Pretty dangerous testimonial for me to come out with, but it's what went on and to what degree or extent I couldn't even guess. I think the only hope for the Hake Fleet and those who want documented bycatch is the anti-trust lawsuit against Pacific Seafoods...As far as the King Salmon bycatch, which was horrendously underestimated and exploited by foreign processors before the AFA, maybe an at-sea observer could chime in? If they even have those anymore.

Glad to hear that I can be of service. That first hand account I sent you is pretty much the bulk of my personal experience involving hake- leave town, fill up, offload, repeat. The workings of the plant are the big mystery due to lack of Data. I recall a Wildlife Trooper from Washington (or whichever agency they use for enforcement) hanging about the plant in search of violations, not sure if he was ever able to uncover any infractions. I know that the anti-trust lawsuit against Pacific Seafoods isn't going excellent, so that gives me a gut feeling that there isn't much hard evidence against Pacific Seafoods involving the rockfish. I do know of some rather interesting news reports of incidences involving Pacific Seafoods and Rockfish though, so maybe I'll actually do some real research and put together a collaboration to add to my *

The following paragraph is from the NPFMC website.

"While the Council is formulating a comprehensive rationalization program for all groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska to address similar problems in other fisheries, a short-term solution is needed to stabilize the community of Kodiak. Kodiak has experienced multiple processing plant closures, its residential work force is at risk due to shorter and shorter processing seasons and the community fish tax revenues continue to decrease as fish prices and port landings decrease. Congress recognized these problems and directed the Secretary in consultation with the Council, to implement a pilot rockfish program. all aspects of the economic portfolio of the fishery needs to recognized for the fishery to be rationalized. All the historical players – harvesters (both catcher vessels and catcher processors) and processors need to be recognized in a meaningful way. The demonstration program is designed as a short-term two-year program for immediate economic relief until comprehensive GOA rationalization can be implemented."

I feel as if this battle has already been lost. During my tenure as a drag hand I have witnessed the worst of the worst when it comes to Halibut bycatch. The sad thing though is there were plenty of other gantries on the horizon doing it the same way, passing in close quarters. When they rationalize all of this and hand out the Quota and group everyone into co-ops it will no doubt be the end of any hope for Kodiak. As I know it now it is a drug infested varmint hole with boat owners reaping profits at the expense of these worthless varmints(crew), stealing from them too easily and discarding them when they're used. These people have no ethic or regard for the resource or the destruction that has occurred.

If you follow the Tholepin blog, which I'm sure you are familiar with, you may have heard that there is 100 million pounds of Halibut that has gone "missing" in 4 years, this is according to the IPHC. Where this missing Halibut has gone is common knowledge among the drag fleet. The observer and data gaming goes to the highest levels, starting with individual boats and ending with lobbyists and corrupt politicians, allowing for the illusion that large volumes of groundfish are being harvested cleanly while in fact it comes at a cost of PSC(prohibited species catch) many many times higher than what is extrapolated. I am able to illustrate in complete detail how this gaming takes place as I have witnessed it in full effect, though I am still puzzled as to where all that data goes and who's behind the doors crunching the numbers. 'cough' Groundfish Data Bank 'cough' 'cough' corrupt politicians 'cough.'

According to NPFMC:

"One of the keys to successful fishery management is incorporating diverse views into decision making through a transparent public process......The Council system was designed so that fisheries management decisions were made at the regional level to allow input from affected stakeholders."

So public transparency is key to the process. Let's me and you work on some of these transparency issues as I know of quite a few things that are behind elaborate smoke and mirrors guarded by snake pits and scorpions. Having worked with a few snakes and scorpions I have somewhat of an immunity so I'll work on that end if you help bring people through the smoke and mirrors.

This is where I'm headed with this, it's about 100 million pounds in 4 years, John, and that's just what was admitted to and only considering Halibut. The real cost is far greater than even these numbers. A f*cking heartbreaker.


Friday, May 06, 2011

Al Queida boogymen or North Pacific trawlers

Which should you be more afraid of, the threat posed by shadows or the real ongoing destruction of our food supply? I've always been more concerned about the latter. The subsistence users of salmon in Alaska are even more worried, because I can always go to the store. I don't want to detract from this thread too much, because it's a real eye-opener and needs to be read carefully, and because you won't read this anywhere else. The theft and cover-up in the trawl fisheries off the coasts of Alaska is astonishing and reaches to the highest levels. X,Y, and Z do not intend to go quietly into the night.

Clever fish resource management and allocation programs were put in place, largely by the late Sen. Ted Stevens, that are almost cast in stone now and need citizen involvement to remedy the rush for the last fish. Please read to the end, to the letter from 'X.' You'll wonder if the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, which bought heavily into the factory trawl realm, is even from the same planet. Is there a movie called 'Spawn II'? Their enabling legislation will have to be changed to give the villages salable stock certificates so they can opt out of this madness so. The whole CDQ mess is the anti-thesis of community development as long as the villagers are unable to control the monster who rules them(and has all their money).

Dear John,

Sorry for being a douchebag, just a young punk here that's frustrated with whats happening and has seen some sh#t happen. Wouldn't it be nice if they would allow jig fishermen to expand to viable fisheries such as POP and perhaps even Pollock. Seems as if even Jig gear will soon be limited entry, though. Then we will see larger boats/less new entrants. Perhaps I will no longer be frustrated then as I will have no job prospects to be frustrated about. Look forward to your next piece.

I wrote you an article on the Rockfish Trawl fishery that segways nicely into Arrowtooth fishing and Sole fishing.
Would you be interested in helping me get it viewed?

On Sun, May 1, 2011 at 9:36 AM, John Enge <> wrote:
Roger that, over. Remember, there is a backlash going on against catch shares in the country. Even talk of taking quota away from the king crabbers and spreading it around. The meeting the king crabbers are putting on to encourage crab crew to BORROW money to buy crab shares should be boycotted. Why should they buy back what was stolen from them in the first place? It is being called an 'industry' function, with only the robbers as organizers. Hardly representative of the 'industry.' But then you guys can't even get letters in the Kodiak Daily Mirror anymore, or any media attention for that matter. A printed fish newsletter needs to be started up there on behalf of the small guys, and the downtown businesses. You would be surprised how much you could do by just starting to do it. Looking around there, you won't find many people doing much to save Kodiak.


My boots on the ground opinion of the situation in Kodiak (have only spent 4-5 days there this year during Comfish, but have a liaison) is that the "opposition" to such devices as IFQs and shares intermingle heavily with those who own IFQs, or are pushing for rationalization in their fisheries. Stopped in for a jig meeting and was discussing the horrendous bycatch of undersized and unreported halibut in both the trawl and long-line fishery only to be stopped mid-sentence by a long-liner who was jigging in the offseason. It is hardly a united front to reduce waste or stop privatization, mostly just people either trying to make a living or continue to expand their large scale operations. Dismal hopes for independents who know that unreported bycatch in any fishery will result in it's eventual collapse, no matter how much they cut the quotas or shrink the fleet. Currently in the works of writing stuff right now but my mind is very unorganized and most of my stuff is just anecdotal and also very personal, perhaps I will keep writing and stumble upon something useful.

PS I know a few dudes with backbones and intestinal fortitude. They were the only ones standing with me at Senator Begich's introductory speech at Comfish armed with questions on bycatch and catch shares issues. Pretty much reamed the crabbers and trawlers a new one as they weren't there listening to Senator Begich to defend themselves.

soo...Rockfish is rationalized but we still have Sole and Arrowtooth proceeding in the same manner....Currently the shallow-water sole complex has similar allowable bycatch to the Rockfish program and it wouldn't surprise me if in the next few years it was rationalized and they put 100% coverage on for it....Then they could actually fish clean and stop towing at night/grinding on sh#tpiles without losing "their" share of the fishery. Those larger boats that have been arriving in Kodiak or are rebuilt from smaller vessels are most definitely the problem. In the case of Arrowtooth fishing this is painfully apparent as the boats only have about 24 hours to fish before they need to head in. With the price of fuel these boats *must* fill up with 250-300tho or they won't make any money. So, they fish close to town if they can and run any bycatch over the sorting belt. Anyways...It's f#cked

Here's a little about rockfish-

I'd like to tell a little story about trawling for rockfish, my side of the story, as I witnessed it. The side of the story you won't read in newspapers or hear about in fisheries meetings. The one about a young deckhand trying to learn a trade and earn a living that would sustain him throughout his life. The story began for me as a young teenager spending the summer for the first time commercial fishing with my dad. His job at the time being engineer aboard a local Kodiak trawler/long-liner. When I arrived in Kodiak for summer vacation the vessel was gearing up for Rockfish season.

Back in 2002, when I first experienced it, the fishery was derby style. This meaning that the eligible vessels would race to the grounds, whoever most efficiently and swiftly harvesting the largest volume of target species and allowable by-catch making the most profit. Allowable catch was as much target Rockfish species as one could harvest as well as an additional allowance of 30% Pacific cod, 5% Black Cod, and smaller percentages of "idiot" Rockfish and other species that make up the groundfish complex. Might need to fact check exact %'s

The way these vessels typically went about prosecuting this fishery was to find a sizable chunk of rockfish in the first few days of the trip and rather then continue and fill up with straight rockfish they would save enough room for bycatch. After catching ~2/3 of a boatload of target rockfish they then had enough target species to fill 1/3 of the boat with "bycatch". Additional tows would be made on schools of Pacfic Cod and Black cod to finish the trip. During the derby this type of fishing resulted in large catches of unwanted and prohibited species.

To illustrate in chronological order the discards that occurred during these trips I will begin with the Rockfish portion. During the harvest of the target species, which was only valued at 5-6 cents per pound in 2002, it was common for amounts that exceeded 2/3 of hold capacity to be cut over the side or discarded. This was to ensure that a maximum amount of high value bycatch could be retained on the subsequent tows. Discard of target species in a directed fishery is illegal and these actions typically went unobserved and unnoted in logbooks. The majority of the fleet, which is in the 60ft-124ft range, is only required observer coverage 1 out of every 3 days and therefore these actions went on unenforced.

After the catching of the target species attention was then shifted to the harvesting of Pacific Cod and Black Cod. These two species, like Rockfish, are schooling fish that live close to the bottom. Typically, a school of Pacific Cod or Black Cod would be located and a tow would be made. Due to the high catch rate when Cod encounter a trawl net this sometimes resulted in the catching of volumes over what would be acceptable as bycatch, any overages finding their way to the shit-shoot. As evidence of this sequence occurring a witness only has to remember the deckloads of Pacific Cod and Black Cod that were brought to town, separate from the Target Rockfish in the Tank. Boats arriving at the dock with tanks plugged full of Rockfish and Deckloads of straight Cod.

To add to the problem, the bycatch species, being highly sought after, tows would be made on areas that did not contain the density of allowable species required for clean fishing. This meant that after the catch of Target Rockfish there was large incentive to make the allowable bycatch tows, regardless of catches of species such as Halibut, Skates, and Dog Sharks. This further added to the problem of discard in this derby fishery.

The management solution to these problems, which grew as the fishery saw increasing interest from eligible vessels, was rationalization. This set in place private ownership of shares of the fisheries as well as limitations on prosecution. It also fully allowed the harvesting of non-target allowable bycatch to continue, unchanged.

The result of this solution and it's limitations, which took affect in the 2006 rockfish season, is a quota and cooperative system that gives complete ownership of the fishery to a few individuals while allowing vessel operators to harvest the Target and Allowable By-catch species separately. While this has greatly increased harvest efficiency it also acknowledges that the allowable bycatch system is a mechanism to allow the harvesting of high value bycatch during the prosecution of a low-value fishery. This has resulted in many foreseeable but unaddressed problems such as fleet consolidation, private ownership of a public resource, and many new hurdles to entry into the Rockfish Fishery.


I liked the trawl crewman"s account. One thing tho. He used the term rockfish for the several hundred thousand pouunds put aboard so that the bycatch would be credited. A change l'd make and think he'd agree is that they weren't rockfish, the vast majority was POP cuz you gotta scrape for all the other RF class. The effort being greater so less trips. At the density of the POP you can get a ioo,ooo lb tow if your good. You should have seen Oscar Dyson's boat (Peggy Jo) --(we called it the Piggy Jew) operate, he was way high boat (fished during strikes too) among the very few boats that did that fishery, so l'd say Trident will reap 10 to 20% of the Gulf quota for that vessel alone A common practice by many boats was to take ice in totes on deck, steam to the nearest POP (35 miles from Kodiak), quickly fill the hole with POP, steam to the Blackcod grounds and fill the deck, and steam for the dock with the crew out on deck carefully butchering and icing the $3 per lb fish. The POP was 5 cents at the time. This must be 8 years ago by now. l made a stink about it and Trident doubled the price, 2 years later they doubled it again. You can see why they wouldn't have wanted to pay much, the POP was mostly junk, recovery costs are huge, long lines of women messing with tiny fillets. Today you can buy a sandwich in Galveston that has between 3 and 6 tiny POP fillets in it for $3. The fillets are the normal 1/2 fish. My friend says the locals like it better than red snapper. Any fisherman other than a dragger would never set his gear on small fish in the first place, it's easy to see the difference on their color machine. Then they'd bleed the fish while still alive and ice it careful. Pass this on if you want.
The POP is the dog and all the rest of the fish and us too are the tail. That's the future for the next couple decades if they get away with it.

Well...It's a first hand account of Allowable By-catch in action and how it leads to By-catch of non-target and prohibited species...leading to the need for rationalization which fully acknowledges that the problem was caused by allowing the harvest of multiple target species during the same trip, which encourages dirty fishing.


Yes, those fisheries are little known of in the Alaska public and augur seriously in the halibut stocks debacle, as well as black cod, through that bycatch as well. A key issue is the trawler's, as well as NOAA's, use of the bogus theory of 'economic efficiency' being akin to 'economic utility.' Using the largest possible trawlers to harvest the ocean's resources doesn't meet any standards of good to society. It destroys vastly more of the ecosystem by accident, (some on purpose), to sell, after they allowed themselves that privilege through the council process, small local fleets have been shown to actually burn less fuel, use less labor and equipment than distant-water trawl fleets, the economic multiplier to the local economies are short-circuited by non-resident and other unconscionable trawl practices, etc.


A recent meeting, in Unalakleet of the CDQ group NSEDC, produced a remarkable strategy. The gloves came off as Board Chairman Dan Harrelson outlined a strategy of slander and defamation to be directed at perceived enemies of NSEDC. ( About 12 years ago, while on more cordial terms with Mr. Harrelson, I found myself offering him consolation.
At the time he was resigning as Chairman of the NSEDC Board. Even though he was a Village Public Safety Officer he was charged with 3 major charges by a State Fish & Wildlife Trooper. It's said the trooper told him he was a disgrace to his uniform. If he could he'd cut it off Dan himself. But lacked the authority.
A major defamation suit was simultaneously filed against NSEDC. They ultimately lost and
paid $300,000 for smearing a competitor.
Dan resigned or was booted out. Endeavoring to cheer him I said, "Dan, Don't worry, youll be back. Some time in the future, in a moment of crisis, you'll spurt to the surface like a case of Herpes, and once again lead NSEDC.
It's Deja Vu all over again for Chairman Harrelson.)

What makes resident fishermen, and according to Dan, one resident fisherman in particular, worthy of destructive predatory plotting?
Freedom of speech. Advocacy of clean fishing practices by the At Sea Processors, who have turned virtually every fish, crustacean, and marine mammal in the Bering Sea into "bycatch" of the Pollock Trawl fishery.
The board, frightened, impoverished, unsophisticated men, who subsist on per diem checks from meetings such as this, remained cowed and submissive now, as they have always been to such malice. To speak truth, to be brave, is political suicide.
The checks will stop, the shopping sprees at Anchorage meetings stop. The booze catered to your hotel door in Unalakleet by staff who wish to curtail serious thought will end. The ultimate curse of a communal society is to be shunned.
That the streams in most of their communities have been raped of salmon by their industry does not register. That they are committing cultural genocide of their own way of life is too abstract, or the greed, craving and denial too vehement.
The only way to overcome the ecological destruction, and the corrupt matrix of greed that politically sustains this self destruction is for the average American to step in. Boycott all Pollock products. Every mouth-full you take comes at the expense of an Eskimo or Indian family eking out a harsh living in some of the most remote and harsh places on the continent. Buy a wild caught Alaska Salmon steak instead. Make McFish as extinct on shelves and under the arches as dinosaurburgers.
Say no to the McDonalds Fishwich, no to fish & chips. Yes for free range salmon. You might think the power of one shopper is minimal. But it was shoppers who saved dolphins from Tuna Trawls in one of the greatest boycotts in American history. The tuna boycott. Same type of documentation that triggered and sustained that boycott are all over the internet documenting Pollock bycatch.
" Consuming" is for fires and plagues, not mankind. To buy thoughtlessly is to purchase unforseen consequences for our civilization and oceans.
Shop with the wisdom of our great natural inheritance of the sea always in mind.Walk a little taller.