Fishing industry stakeholders and federal managers in June will begin crafting a bycatch reduction plan for trawl groundfish fisheries in the Gulf. It will include some form of catch share plan, and as the main delivery port for more than $100 million worth of pollock, cod, flats and other fishes, Kodiak is closely guarding any giveaways.

It’s similar to a chess game, said Duncan Fields, a lifelong Kodiak fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is designing the plan.

“You have multiple moving pieces and every time you move a piece, it impacts all other pieces on the board,” Fields explained at a recent panel discussion in Kodiak. “You have your queen and your king — those might be your primary policy goals — but if you can get that pawn to the other end of the board, that becomes a queen. Sometimes the little components of a catch share or rationalization program can become equally as important as the big parts.”

“The big question is how you win, collectively, as a community,” he added. “That revolves around defining the goals and objectives early on. At the cusp of developing a program for the Gulf of Alaska, we have to appreciate the long-term nature of the decisions we may make.”

Fields said he believes mirroring catch share modes being used so far in Alaska (halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab fisheries “will not bring a good result to the Gulf.”

Any new plan must be inclusive, said Nicole Kimball, the state’s federal fisheries adviser.

“We need to recognize the interests and investments and the dependence of all sectors, so there shouldn’t just be a vessel-based program or one just focused on processor interests or the community. It needs to be all three,” Kimball said.

In addition to bycatch reduction, the state wants the plan to limit consolidation.

“It’s understood that can have a very negative effect on community stability and employment opportunities in fishing, processing and all the support industries,” she added.

Kimball said she is “constantly hearing” that the groundfish program needs to have improved monitoring and reporting, and it should keep tabs on social and economic impacts of the management shift.

“The council has embarked on a collection project to get baseline data on those kinds of questions that don’t get asked on fish tickets, or from eLandings,” she said.

The loudest and clearest message Kodiak had for Kimball was that any new program should not include permanent groundfish giveaways. She said the Council will explore limited-duration and allocative quotas, some never tried before.

“We are looking at the ability to allocate quotas for a limited duration, and and reallocate it after some period of time based on a vessel’s performance in achieving the objective, which is reducing bycatch. No one has ever done this, it is uncharted territory, but everyone has talked about it. And so now we are going to take a serious look at it.”

Catch shares: a seven-step program

Like it or not, catch share programs are a preferred tool for federal fishery managers. (In Alaska, 80 percent of all seafood landings come from federal waters 3 to 200 miles offshore.) For any fishing town, seven topics should drive the discussions for the new rules that will change local fisheries. Here is a sampler from a “nuts and bolts” list compiled by Duncan Fields, specific to Gulf groundfish:

• Who gets the fish and why. Vessel owners only? Directed species or bycatch species only? Would you distribute only by history, if so why or why not?

• What kind of access right would be given to the fishery resource? Would access only be through co-ops? Would any open access fisheries be preserved as a way to address entry-level issues? How will consolidation be limited or restricted? What about caps and leasing and transfer issues? Would the number of vessels be reduced? Would there be a qualification based on vessel ownership, experience or active participation?

• Who gets to process the fish and why?

• Community interests — what do we protect: infrastructure, jobs, volume, taxes, local businesses, residency or new community opportunities?

• How do we motivate and integrate gear conversions? As stewards of the resource, we have a responsibility to also think about habitat protections.

• How does this new fishing program will change current practices and the industry relationships built over time, between fishermen and their crews or processors and fishermen?

• What is the mechanism for programmatic review and change?

“These programs are all about tradeoffs,” Fields said. “It is all about making policy decisions on what is possible within the overall structure of the program.

Drift downsize

Should Alaska’s largest salmon fleet look into downsizing? That’s the question fishermen are posing in an informal buyback poll mailed to Bristol Bay’s 1,800 driftnet permit holders.

“We are not promoting it. We are wondering if it would be a good deployment of some of our time and effort — to learn more about it and how it might apply to the specifics of our fishery. The point is to learn more about the pros and cons and that is what we would embark upon if that is what our members encourage us to do,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, run by the drift fishermen and funded with a one percent tax on their salmon catches.

A permit buyback would retire 300 to 500 boats from the fishery. That would bring things closer in line with the ‘optimum number’ declared nearly a decade ago by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. A 2004 CFEC report said between 800 to 1,200 drift permits at Bristol Bay would “represent a reasonable balance of economic, conservation and fishery management concerns .”

Waldrop said he expects results from the postcard mailer will trickle in over the next month or two.

“There’s no deadline. This isn’t a vote it is just an expression of interest. No one is approving us moving into an advocacy position on this. We are simply looking into it and seeing how it might work in the Bay.”

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. Laine lives in Kodiak.

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