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Better alternatives to fisheries observer program

Posted: December 21, 2012 - 10:24am

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) recently approved a restructured observer program that extends observer coverage to Alaska’s small boat fleet. With the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) taking over observer deployment, the industry-funded restructured program increases the cost of an observer day from the current $400 to approximately $1,000.

Fourteen fishing organizations representing fishermen from Seattle to Kodiak signed a letter asking NMFS for programmatic changes to control costs, prioritizing observer coverage for high bycatch fisheries and provide Electronic Monitoring (EM) as an alternative to human observers on small boats. For the past three years these same organizations have worked in good faith to develop tools that provide at-sea data from Alaska’s previously unobserved, community based fishing vessels without causing fleet consolidation, job loss, or disruption of business operations. Fishermen have stated their willingness to pay for a program that adequately monitors bycatch and gathers at-sea data from previously unobserved fishing vessels — they simply asked for cost-effective deployment and an alternative that works on small boats. Alaska’s Congressional delegation, Senators Murkowski and Begich and Congressman Young, supported the fishermen’s request in a strongly worded letter to Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, urging delayed deployment on small vessels until NMFS resolves outstanding deployment issues and implements EM. To date, the request has been ignored and NMFS apparently intends to implement the flawed program in 2013.

Our members are grateful to the Alaska delegation for their support and strong, clear policy directive to NMFS. Finally someone listened, understood, and acted. For three years we have voiced these same concerns to the NPFMC and NMFS with little effect. We continue to ask that NMFS increase coverage on fisheries with significant bycatch concerns and provide alternative monitoring tools before requiring observer coverage on small fishing vessels. Alaska’s Congressional delegation deserves our industry’s thanks for responding to the concerns of coastal fishermen.

Steve Fish, Alaska Longline 
Fishermen’s Association

Kelly Harrell, Alaska Marine 
Conservation Council

Dale Kelley, Alaska Trollers 

Eric Olson, Fishing Vessel 
Owners Association

Chuck McCallum, Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition

Peggy Parker, Halibut Association 
of North America

David Polushkin, 
Kachemak Bay Fisheries

Jim and Rhonda Hubbard, 
Kruzof Fisheries

Buck Laukitis, North Pacific 
Fisheries Association

Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association

Tom McLaughlin, 
Seafood Producers Cooperative

Kathy Hansen, Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance

Roland Maw, United Cook Inlet Drift Association

Jeff Stephan, United Fishermen’s Marketing Association

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kenai123 12/22/12 - 10:22 pm
The Great King Salmon Mystery

The Great King Salmon Mystery

You may be wondering why you failed to that king salmon this year? Some are calling it a king salmon crisis but few if any will attempt to answer the mysterious question as to where all of our king salmon have gone to. It's not a salmon crisis when your neighbor fails to catch a king, it's a crisis when you fail to catch one. If you ask the Alaska
Department of Fish & Game, they will claim that our freshwater rivers and streams are producing plenty of baby king salmon. The mystery appears to begin as these baby kings leave the relative safety of the freshwater and enter the extremely dangerous saltwater. Our ADF&G is currently telling us that SOMETHING in the saltwater is killing our king salmon. The mystery thickens as you try to follow a Cook Inlet baby king salmon's life habits while it attempts to survive the perils of the Pacific Ocean from Kodiak Island to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond. In order to discover where these kings are going you need to do a little research into what has changed out in the Pacific Ocean. One of the largest factors which is constantly changing is the amount of fish our Commercial Pollock Fisheries are harvesting and the "by-catch killing and dumping" of marine life around that Pollock target.

The Observed Silent By-Catch Death.

From the 1950 - 1960 Commercial Pollock Fishing was non-existent because Pollock populations had been commercially wiped out prior to that but that changed as Pollock populations again swelled by 1965. As soon as Commercial Pollock Fisheries again spotted this they immediately greatly expanded their fishing efforts from 1965 to 1970 and caught about 2,000,000 metric tons of Pollock annually until they again killed off the fishery causing that harvest to crash again back down to around 1,000,000 metric tons annually.
Commercial harvest levels remained around 1,000,000 metric tons annually until around 1998 when our Pollock populations again blossomed thus causing our commercial
Pollock fishermen to again take notice. Pollock catches then went up to 1,400,000 metric tons annually until about 2008 when commercial fisheries again wiped out these
Pollock populations back down to the previous 1,000,000 metric tons annually again. After this decade of over fishing, by 2008 Pollock production then began a general
downward nose dive because of the heavy commercial over-fishing. At the same time the whole sale price of Pollock then shot through the roof as our Pacific Pollock
production did not rebound and continues to crash to this day. How doe's this all affect king salmon in the Cook Inlet area? Our Commercial Fisheries research has proved that there are approximately four king salmon by-catch
killed and thrown over-board within each metric ton of Pollock harvest. At current Pollock harvest levels this would result in a king salmon by-catch of about 4,000,000 adult
king salmon annually. Our North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, NPFMC has set annual trawler by-catch kill caps on king salmon at 25,000 in the Gulf of Alaska
and 60,000 in the Bering Sea. This has resulted in an annual 85,000 king by-catch cap on a possible 4,000,000 king salmon by-catch killing rate. We are forced to use our imagination as to where the other 3,915,000 possible dead adult kings are at each year. The point here is that it is not currently possible to construct a 1 - 2 million ton annual Pollock harvest without dramatically affecting the ocean marine environment surrounding those Pollock.
There are different ways to harvest fish just like there are different way to mine minerals. Strip-mining has proved to be a very efficient way to physically extract minerals
but its consequences to the environment have been found to devastating. The same can be said for the current destructive methods used by our trawls to extract Pollock from the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Current trawler technology does not provide a method to effectively harvest Pollock without grave consequences to the marine life surrounding those Pollock. Our current trawler fisheries appear to be operating with the same ecological concern as strip miners as they stomped the planet into the ground while making a dollar. The bottom line is that it is very difficult to extract millions of tons of anything from our oceans without severely impacting the marine life trying to live there. Our king salmon are attempting to survive a trawler fishery system which is "strip-fishing" their home. This commercial industrial activity is devastating our king salmon environment with by-catch but it some how manages to never accidentally kill more than the magic 85,000 king cap. which would shut them down. It is very possible that many millions of kings are being by-catch killed by this trawler fishery but the numbers are not being accurately reported to the public.

The Non-Observed Silent By-Catch Death.

While these commercial trawlers are busy killing these adult kings, they are also by-catching and tossing overboard DEAD smaller bait fish which salmon feed on; thus also reducing
the prey our salmon have access to. Tremendous schools of herring, cod, rockfish, sand fish, hooligan, candle fish, smelt, stickleback, wolf fish and squid have been permanently
wiped out with this bait fish by-catch dumping. This environmental destruction then forces our salmon to forage longer to meet their daily and future calorie intake needs.
Upon entering the ocean, young salmon require huge amounts of prey to allow them to build fat reserves sufficient to allow them to migrate back to their freshwater rivers and streams. During the years prior to returning to freshwater, salmon feed voraciously in order to grow and build strength for the coming journey back home. As trawlers kill and by-catch dump this salmon prey back into the ocean, they dramatically increase a salmons chances of never achieving sufficient fat reserves to make it back to their native freshwater rivers and streams. This by-catch killing and dumping of salmon prey then forces salmon to forage longer, thus exposing them to additional predator encounters with salmon hunting killer and beluga whales along with seals. The additional predator exposure and the fat reserve reduction then further reduces a salmons chances of ever returning to its freshwater home. What is happening here is these commercial trawlers are hitting our salmon from all sides. By-catch kill & dump a salmon's food source actually works to kill salmon with a basic lack of fat reserves. If somehow a salmon is still able to stagger along anyway, the trawlers then force them to forage additional hours just to survive, thus causing them to encounter many more salmon hunting whales and seals. If by some chance they manage to survive all these indirect salmon killers, the trawlers then directly attack them with general salmon by-catch dumping. To make matters even worse, new emerging trawler technology is now allowing trawler operators to even view the dead contents of their nets before the net reaches the surface of the water. These new in-net cameras are now allowing operators to spot nets saturated with dead salmon, while the net is still fishing underwater. This same technology has provided these operators with the ability to dump an entire net filled with salmon before it even reaches the surface. What would you do when confronted with a net full of dead salmon which you cannot sell? These salmon are being dump dead just like all other marine life unfortunate enough to become trapped in these ecological killing machines. These trawler nets are the same type of ecological threat as floreral carbons to our ozone layer or carbon dioxide to global warming and they all operating out of sight. Ecologists used to watch trawler by-catch in an attempt to control the marine destruction but commercial fisheries technology has leaped out in front of them and is now allowing nets full of anything to be dumped dead before even reaching the surface to be recorded as by-catch. Just about everything our salmon are trying to do to survive out in the ocean is under attack or is being interfered with by this commercial trawler fleet. The grand result of decades of this triple trawler wipe-out effect, (fat reserves, predator's and by-catch) is that very few king salmon are surviving to even attempt the journey back to their native rivers or streams.

A Proposed By-Catch Solution and Reasonable Goal.

Some may ask what the solution is to all this unbelievable fisheries destruction? If you ask the Alaska Department of Fish & Game they will point to a snow storm of data and grafts, which will leave a person even more confused about our commercial fisheries by-catch problems. Many things may need to change within our commercial fisheries but key within those changes is that statewide we must stop commercial fisheries from profiting when they kill non-targeted marine life as by-catch. This means that commercial fisheries should be legally required to retain and process BY-CATCH and then DONATE IT to a charity. That means that if you "by-catch kill" a beluga whale calf; you are forced to retain, process and donate it. If you by-catch kill a king salmon: you must retain, process and donate it. By charity I mean some kind of Food Bank. This would prevent commercial fisheries from donating by-catch to their favorite "commercial fisheries non-profit". This change alone, over time would eventually resolve most of Alaska's current by-catch problems. With this change commercial fisheries would eventually be forced to at least begin thinking about avoiding non-targeted by-catch. The king salmon by-catch issue is 100% about money; if you can make by-catch non-profitable, commercial fisheries will eventually find a way to prevent the financial drain. If we leave things the way they are now we will be permanently losing many marine specie and fisheries in the very near future. As long as commercial fisheries are allowed to profit from by-catch, the by-catch issue will never go away and therefore all of our Alaskan natural resources and fisheries will go on suffering FOREVER. The new reality in our fisheries future must be that commercial by-catch is going to cost you. It really does not matter if it is a large fine or the charity donation, the Alaskan [filtered word] needs hold commercial fisheries accountable for the marine destruction it is causing within the saltwater. The wholesale slaughter of non-targeted species is no longer just acceptable losses. This mean that the Alaskan public must compel the Alaska Board of Fish and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to take action and make substantial changes in the way ALL by-catch is processed by ALL of our commercial fisheries. This is a very reasonable goal for the Alaskan public to pursue in resolving this very unreasonable waste of our common Alaskan natural resource heritage.

kenai123 12/22/12 - 10:27 pm


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