Sunday, December 02, 2012

Bycatch = Goodby Catch

Dear Ms. Bonney of Kodiak. Your theory about giving the National Marine Fisheries Service the "tool" sounds a little fishy to me. The 'tool' in your mind is that sledge hammer called privatization. The problem is that it's the absolutely wrong tool for the job, irrespective of it's 'killer capitalism' traits that kill the American dream for thousands of people, just to enrich your clients.. Like using a bowling ball to drive a tack into the wall. Maybe more like giving the class bully a garden hose to hose everyone real good. Just plain wrong on many levels.

What is becoming painfully apparent is that there is a finite amount of fish in Alaska. Now the halibut fishery, that famous by-catch of the Kodiak trawl fleet, is down 75% in the last half dozen years. And you want to reward the folks who have perpetuated it?  The East Coast Canadians found this out when their cod stocks collapsed from deploying factory trawlers.. They didn't really start trawling on those iconic stocks until about the 1950s. Hook and line fishing had gone on there for about a thousand years prior to that. The early seafarers like John Calbot, a contemporary of Columbus,  had found fleets of hundreds of Portugese salt codders. The Portugese had been quietly hauling back big sailing ships full of salt cod for hundred of years by then.

The problem is not which tool NMFS uses to manage the bullies, but what the ground rules of the game should be. Why is it that other gear groups aren't pursuing the Pacific ocean perch, that vast cloud of a resource that resides near the bottom out on 'the edge', unlike pollock? Is it because the ground rules don't give other gear groups an equal footing? I think it is. The rest of the strategy to keep competing gear groups away is to only offer peanuts for the POP at the dock. That way the little time that is given to longliners or pot fishermen is just about enough to cover fuel. It's just one malfeasance after another. I about gag when I hear the term good 'science' thrown around. About as much science going on in the Gulf of Alaska as the 'cow pie theory' in the Bering Sea. Chances are good that there is no stopping the resource slide that the rest of the continental U.S. has experienced.

Trawls aren't the only way to catch bottom-fish. The trawlers just got there first, and they aim to keep other folks out. As soon as they can get 'Qs', they will be hounding NMFS to up the limits on POP. And they can go WAY up, and so can the price. POP is almost a luxury item in Asia. Look at what the Japanese and Russians were catching in the sixties.Of course the foreign fleet knocked the POP down so bad they took all this time to come back.

Trawling reminds me of the old Greek fishing method of using dynamite, which was popular after WWII. I didn't see any fishing going on when I was there thirty years later. Remember, it was Jane Lubchenko's own contemporaries in Oregon who found that bottom trawling extinguishes 30% of the bottom species complex, much like using dynamite. And in some cases, like arrowtooth flounder fishing, going for the crap fish just to get to keep some valuable species as by-catch. Halibut not being one they can keep.

Ms. Bonney is strictly a trawl lobbyist, so it baffles me why she is quoted all the time in the press. Did they quote Jack Abramoff all the time? And don't bother asking NMFS  what are the alternative gear types. They have had decades to forward their knowledge and they didn't. Maybe I should have shown a little more interest in moving to Kodiak back in the '80s when I was queried whether I wanted to go there and do gear research. I didn't go because I had seen enough to figure out that trawls were just wrong.

I had just invented an automatic baiting machine for the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. I've done a lot of private reading on gear before and since that. My brother and I got the first dedicated fin-fish pots in the water in Alaska in Clarence Straits for black cod in the mid '70s and pioneered the gillnet roe herring fishery. Both methods are selective for specie, and in the case of herring, size as well. There are places fishermen selectively fish for POP type rockfish. Remember, this is the pearl of great price for the trawlers; damn the rest of the fleet and the resources, full speed ahead..

Here's some more reading on trawl bycatch, from the front lines:

Pollock trawlers exceed king salmon cap, driving debate
by James Brooks/ editor@kodiakdailymirror.comKodiak Daily Mirror
Nov 28, 2012
Next week, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council will consider a proposal to extend a cap on king salmon catches to trawl fisheries across the Gulf of Alaska.
Intense debate over that proposal is being colored by the performance of the pollock trawl fishery, the sole group already operating under a king salmon cap.
“Basically, the whole thing was a disaster,” said Julie Bonney of the Groundfish Data Bank, which advocates on behalf of trawlers.
This fall, trawlers in the western Gulf of Alaska were put on a diet of king salmon for the first time. Under new rules, they were allowed to catch up to 5,589 king salmon in their nets as they pursued pollock, the fish that shows up in fish sticks and makes up the majority of Alaska’s seafood production.
According to data from the National Marine Fisheries Service, western Gulf trawlers pulled in more than 8,300 king salmon —150 percent of the cap.
That’s alarming, said Kelly Harrell, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, which is in favor of king salmon caps for all trawl fisheries. “At a time when many of our Chinook salmon stocks are in crisis and literally every king counts, it is extremely disappointing to see data showing the Chinook bycatch cap has been greatly exceeded in the western Gulf pollock fishery,” Harrell wrote in an email.
Under normal circumstances, western pollock trawlers would have been shut down as soon as they reached the cap. NMFS fishery manager Mary Furuness said that didn’t happen because few fisheries observers were assigned to western pollock trawlers and didn’t deliver data to NMFS fast enough for that agency to react.
“It’s unfortunate,” Furuness said.
Sport fishermen prize king salmon, which also fetch a high price in a small commercial fishery. This summer, fishermen in Cook Inlet endured abysmal king salmon returns that caused the federal government to declare a fishery emergency and residents to draft letters lambasting trawlers as the cause.
NMFS failure to keep the pollock fleet within regulatory limits raises doubts about the federal agency’s ability to impose similar caps on non-pollock trawlers, Bonney said. She pointed to a portion of NMFS’ own analysis, to be presented next week.
“NMFS’ ability to manage Chinook salmon PSC limits in the (Gulf of Alaska) nonpollock fisheries is likely to be difficult,” that analysis states in part.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
3:34 PM
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"... is likely to be difficult,” that analysis states in part.
AMCC advocates a cap of 5,000 fish for nonpollock trawlers, and Harrell said if NMFS gets good data, a cap can be managed successfully. “Limits on bycatch are critical, and fishery managers have an important opportunity to put a cap on Chinook bycatch in non-pollock Gulf fisheries where there currently is none. However, accurate, timely and increased observer data is essential to ensuring bycatch caps are meaningful," she wrote in an email.
Bonney, meanwhile, advocates rationalizing the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery, a process that would assign each boat an individual catch quota.
Without rationalization, Bonney said, NMFS doesn’t have the tools to address the king salmon problem in either the pollock fishery or any other kind of trawling. “We don't have the infrastructure and the management tools to manage to that kind of precision,” she said.
The North Pacific council is scheduled address nonpollock trawl fishing caps Thursday afternoon in Anchorage. Additional information is available at the council website,
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at
Read more:
Unfiled Notes