Legislation will end opportunity for Alaskans in groundfishing

Posted: Friday, November 07, 2003

Editor's Note: The following letter was written to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and submitted for publication.

This letter is coming to you from a lifetime Gulf of Alaska fisherman, Tom Gilmartin. Fishermen are the backbone of the local Alaska economy and spend most of our times at sea fishing not politicking. So time at sea leaves the big money boys in charge of you, our senator, Mr. Stevens.

Sir, I hope this letter opens your eyes a little bit. We fishermen do not want a Bering Sea-style rationalization scheme or an IFQ system established in the Gulf of Alaska rockfish or groundfish fisheries.

We do not desire foreign ownership of our fisheries resources as has happened in the Bering Sea. You, sir, are responsible for that foreign ownership of our fish.

My vessel is a 58-foot catcher processor targeting shrimp in Kodiak and Prince William Sound. We are operating five years now backed by state of Alaska economic development money. We have developed our own groundfish bycatch reduction device and learned that our methods can catch Pacific Ocean perch rockfish, if we so choose.

Your present rockfish rider will end any further pursuit of rockfish for my vessel. And it will end any further economic growth in groundfishing for Alaskans interested in doing so.

Pacific Ocean perch rockfish have been pursued for years by using bottom trawls. Bottom trawls fish dirty lots of bycatch. In that bycatch, there are some high dollar black cod. These are the actual target species of the Pacific Ocean perch rockfish fishery.

It's important that you understand that the council and National Marine Fisheries Service have failed to implement a midwater fishery (that is, no bottom contact) for those Pacific Ocean perch rockfish. This method of fishing would eliminate virtually all the bycatch. They are guilty of fishery mismanagement; there is no denying that.

Every year NMFS has allowed the black cod bycatch to be taken in this Pacific Ocean perch rockfish fishery. Then, later in the year, when flounder and sole fishing are pursued, the black cod bycatch must be thrown overboard, wasted fish. Those flounder fishing vessels are mostly Alaska owned where the Pacific Ocean perch rockfish vessels are mostly out-of-state operators.

Sen. Stevens, who do you represent Alaskans or those other guys?

Tom Gilmartin, Kenai

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