Better alternatives to fisheries observer program

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 
Association

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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