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.