A new plan to reduce bycatch by trawlers is being crafted by federal managers for Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries, and it likely will result in a catch share plan. Now is the time for fishing residents to make sure the new program protects their access to local resources and sustains, instead of drains, their coastal communities.

Currently, the plan includes trawlers in the central Gulf and both trawl and pot cod gear in the western Gulf.

“Catch share programs certainly can benefit the long term viability of the resource in a fishing community, but only if they are designed right and the long term health of the resource, the community and genuine bycatch reduction measures are built in up front,” said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, a spokesperson for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s advisory panel.

Peterson added that it is really tough to add community protections after a catch share plan hits the water.

“We’ve all learned lessons from past programs, such as the rapid consolidation of ownership, reduced opportunities for crew and captains and shore support workers, the increased costs of entering into a fishery and the potential for absentee ownership and quota leasing,” she said.

Using the same privatization model as with Alaska halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab will serve to shrink fishing communities that depend on groundfish, insisted Seth Macinko, a fisheries professor at the University of Rhode Island who has spent decades studying catch share programs around the world. At a recent meeting with Kodiak City and Borough officials, he stressed the importance of being involved from the beginning.

“A lot of this is being promoted via a ‘privatize or perish’ message, as if you don’t have any other alternatives. I think that is wrong,” Macinko said. “People are confusing a tool with an ideology, and the tool is simply pre-assigned catch. That is what makes the difference out on the water and you can do that in many ways. My message to you is that you have got a choice between actively designing your future versus saying it is too complicated, it makes my head hurt, and leaving it to others to decide.”

One alternative is to assign fishing shares to communities, which then lease the shares to their local fleets. Alaska in 2002 set up a Community Quota Entities (CQE) program that allowed 42 eligible fishing towns to buy quota and lease it to local fishermen. For varying reasons, there has been very little CQE activity.

AMCC’s Peterson has been engaging with other fishing communities around the nation to see how they have adapted to the changes brought about by catch share plans. Fishermen at Port Orford, Ore. and Cape Cod, Mass., for example, have formed community associations that secure access to the fish and then redistributed it to active fishermen in their port. Members of those communities and others will make presentations at ComFish on April 11.

The NPFMC will move forward with designing new management scenarios for the Gulf of Alaska in June. It will have huge ramifications for Kodiak, where most of the Gulf groundfish catches are landed.

“Hopefully we can all work together to craft a program that really looks toward what we want our fishing community to look like fifty years down the line,” Peterson said.

Fishing No. 1 for fatalities

Commercial fishing still ranks as the nation’s deadliest job — with nearly 35 times more deaths in 2011 than the average for all US workers. That’s the latest from the Center of Disease Control’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.

For the decade through 2009, 504 US fishermen died on the job. Over half died by drowning when their boat went down, and 30 percent from falling overboard. Another 10 percent were caused by injuries onboard, usually from entanglements in the winch, used for winding ropes.

The Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery tops the most deadly list with 55 fatalities over the decade. The other most hazardous fisheries in the U.S. were the Atlantic scallop fishery with 44 fatalities; the Alaska salmon fishery with 39 fatalities; the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery with 26 fatalities; the Alaska cod fishery with 26 fatalities; the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery with 25 fatalities; and the Alaska sole fishery with 21 fatalities. Find a link to the CDC report at www.alaskafishradio.com.

Boost to medical benefits

The Fishermen’s Fund is a program unique to Alaska that since 1951 has provided medical benefits to commercial fishermen hurt on the job. The fund’s revenues come from commercial fishing license fees.

Last year the fund helped 700 fishermen and paid more than $850,000 in benefits, said Velma Thomas, Program Coordinator at the Dept. of Labor’s Workmen’s Compensation Division in Juneau.

The fund also covers transportation, prescriptions and physical therapy and chiropractic treatments.

Thomas said the rules for getting benefits are very straightforward.

“They must have a valid commercial fishing license at the time of the injury. The injury must be directly connected to commercial fishing, and it must occur within Alaska waters. They’ve got to seek medical treatment within 60 days of the injury, and they must file a claim report within a year. So it’s pretty simple and easy,” she explained.

Information about the Fishermen’s Fund is on the back of every commercial fishing license. The five member Fund council is traveling around the state to make more people aware of the medical benefits, and will be in Kodiak in mid-April. Visit http://labor.alaska.gov/wc/ffund.htm for more information.

ComFish time!

ComFish is Alaska’s longest running fisheries trade show and the 34th annual event is set for April 11-13 in Kodiak. Find the lineup of exhibitors and presentations at www.comfishalaska.com. Next year, ComFish will feature its famous ‘goober debate’ when all gubernatorial candidates come to town to share their knowledge about Alaska’s seafood industry in a live, two-hour statewide broadcast. Since 1990, every candidate running for governor has participated in the fisheries event.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry since 1988.

Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 30 stations around the state and at www.alaskafishradio.com. Laine lives in Kodiak.

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