A change in the way pollock and cod are processed in the Gulf of Alaska could end up costing Kodiak millions in lost tax revenue.
On Tuesday night, Alaska Pacific Seafoods plant manager Matt Moir told the Kodiak City Council that fishermen in the recent pollock ‘B’ season skipped their traditional deliveries to Kodiak in favor of dropping off fish at tenders headed west.
“Fourteen million pounds of seafood that normally gets delivered to this town went west to Akutan and Sand Point,” Moir told the council.
That seafood included 17 percent of Kodiak’s normal allotment of pollock from the area and 41 percent of Kodiak’s trawl-caught cod. Moir estimated that without the seafood, he reduced his processing — and thus, hiring — time by a week to 10 days.
“This is activity that is not normal in this fishery,” said Josh Keaton, who monitors the Gulf of Alaska for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The fisheries service divides the Gulf into different areas for ease of regulation. The area in question, 620, stretches from the south end of Kodiak Island west to a line east of the Shumagin Islands.
Most of the fish in area 620 are caught in the area’s eastern third by Kodiak fishermen and are taken back to Kodiak. The quota for the area is used mainly by these fishermen, though historically a few smaller fishing boats have taken fish from the west side of the area and delivered it to places like Sand Point.
“In the past, tenders have not been used in the 620 pollock fishery, except by smaller vessels that have come from the communities out west,” Keaton said.
This year, fishermen bucked that trend.
Instead of delivering to Kodiak, big boats took their fish west, to tenders that then ferried the cargo to western processing plants. Normally, that doesn’t make sense. Tenders are prohibited east of 157 degrees west longitude, a measure designed to protect Kodiak deliveries. The trip west is longer, which means fish are in worse shape when they reach shore.
Keaton declined to say which fishermen were choosing to skip Kodiak, citing confidentiality rules. Industry experts, however, identified Trident Seafoods as the main source of both the fishermen and the tenders delivering west.
Trident Seafoods spokesman Joe Plesha said Trident’s shift was driven by interest from independent fishermen who sell fish to the company.
“We’ve actually lost boats sometimes because we don't have the capacity to handle the boats that fish for us,” he said. “This is a way for us to frankly provide a market for those fishermen.”
The fishermen in question mostly operate large boats that travel to different fisheries as far removed as the Bering Sea and the Pacific Northwest. This year, many of those independents decided to fish for pollock near Kodiak. “It was somewhat unique in that respect because they were there all at once,” he said. “They all happened to want to participate in the pollock fishery that happened a couple-three weeks ago.”
According to Trident-provided information, the company’s Star of Kodiak seafood processing plant can take in 1.1 million pounds of pollock per day. Its Sand Point plant can take in 1.2 million pounds of pollock a day, and its Akutan plant can process 3 million pounds of seafood daily.
“We couldn’t do all of that production in Kodiak,” Plesha said.
In past years, pollock fishermen near Kodiak have formed voluntary cooperatives to slow the pollock season and space out deliveries to Kodiak processors. In the cooperatives, fishermen divided pollock quota among themselves, reducing the time pressure to get fish to dock.
In the past two years, however, the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council has begun debating a catch share strategy that would formally assign individual quotas to fishermen. In other fisheries, those quotas have been based on a fisherman’s history in the region.
Keaton said that if fishermen this year were trying to establish a history, it’s no sure thing. Last year, the North Pacific council set a cutoff date after which no history would be considered in the drafting of a new program.
If a fisherman is trying to establish a history now, “it’s kind of a long shot; there’s no guarantee,” Keaton said.
But with millions of dollars on the line, even a long shot could pay off if the cutoff date slips. If some fishermen think it’s worth the gamble, the city of Kodiak will be caught in the middle.
“There’s a lot of people in Kodiak who are hot over this,” Keaton said. “It’s tax revenue to the city of Kodiak, it’s jobs.”
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.