During a joint city and borough Kodiak Fisheries Work Group meeting on Sept. 26, attendees addressed the 2018 Pacific Cod disaster relief and potential changes to the observer program.
Ann Robertson, legislative assistant at Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office, called into the meeting to update the work group on fisheries disaster relief.
“Secretary Ross approved disaster declaration requests for the Chignik sockeye fishery from 2018 and the Gulf of Alaska Pacific Cod request,” she said of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s Sept. 25 announcement.
The original request for relief was submitted in March 2018 by then-Gov. Bill Walker. The disaster followed an 80% reduction of total allowable catch for the Gulf of Alaska. This reduction caused several Pacific cod fisheries to close and led to an 81% to 83% decline in revenue, according to a disaster request letter from Walker.
With the approval, the Pacific cod fishery will be eligible to receive disaster assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Congress appropriated $165 million for fishery disasters for fiscal year 2019. The Department of Commerce is determining the appropriate allocations of these funds to eligible fisheries, according to a Department of Commerce news release.
“We are in the middle of a discussion now on Capitol Hill about the disaster process and how it works,” Robertson said.
Sen. Roger Wicker R-Miss introduced legislation that would make changes to the federal fishery disaster process to install timelines that NOAA has to adhere to in providing approvals and moving forward with funding, Robertson said.
Karla Bush, the federal fisheries coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, also called in to the meeting and provided updates about the North Pacific Observer Program.
“The state has come up with a list of priorities for the next three years. At the top of that list are long-standing issues related to the observer program for groundfish and halibut fisheries,” Bush said.
To conserve and manage groundfish resources, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service use data collected by observers. Data includes information such as the composition of the fish harvest, fishing locations, gear type and biological samples, and interactions with protected species.
Because the program lost federal funding, the council is looking at cost containment measures to keep the program running for the next three years, said Groundfish Data Bank Executive Director Julie Bonney. The Groundfish Data Bank includes members from shorebased processors and catcher vessels homeported in Kodiak.
“There is about $2 million we have to fund, between the loss of federal funds and the loss of grants for EM (electronic monitoring),” Bonney said in an interview with the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
Participants in the federally managed commercial groundfish fisheries off of Alaska must adhere to observer program requirements, according to the NOAA website.
The vessels and processors are split into two categories — full coverage and partial coverage — depending on their size and other information.
“The council will be looking at a fee analysis to increase the ex-vessel value fee that participants in a partial coverage category pay into,” Bush said. “Right now that’s set at 1.25% split between the processor and harvesters. The council is looking to increase those fees and there are options to increase fees differently for fixed gear and trawl gear.”
The council passed a motion to increase the observer fee to 1.65% on Oct. 5 at the council’s 10-day meeting in Homer.
Other changes to the observer program include using electronic monitoring technologies on both the fixed gear and pelagic trawl gear, Bush said.
“A pilot program for pelagic trawl gear electronic monitoring that began this year,” Bush said. The program will be further developed next year through an exempt fishing permit, she said.
Combining electronic monitoring and observer-collected data would also help with cost containment, Bonney told the Mirror.
Electronic monitoring includes the use of equipment such as video cameras to capture data on fishing locations, catch and discards. This type of monitoring can also be used to monitor compliance with catch retention requirements or bycatch of protected resources for certain fisheries, according to NOAA’s website.