The Kodiak Island Borough and City of Kodiak confirmed their plans to dip into fish politics during a joint meeting Tuesday night.
In a one-hour joint assembly, the Kodiak City Council and Kodiak borough assembly agreed to pass a joint resolution and send the borough and city mayors to the October meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. At that meeting, the council is expected to address tools to fight bycatch in the central Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery.
While somewhat arcane to outsiders, bycatch has become a hot topic among Gulf fishermen facing declining halibut catches. Halibut and king salmon are among the species caught as bycatch by trawlers pursuing Pacific cod and pollock, but the halibut and salmon valued by subsistence and sport fishermen are tossed overboard, frequently dead, by trawlers.
Currently, the trawl fleet faces a fleet-wide cap on king salmon and halibut it can catch and discard, but the North Pacific council has been moving toward measures that would hold individual boats accountable for their bycatch.
The city-borough resolution will ask the North Pacific council to protect Kodiak’s current fishery landings regardless of way the council implements individual accountability. The resolution will not make specific recommendations on bycatch quantities.
All of the Kodiak fishermen and fishery advocates who spoke during Tuesday’s work session supported the joint resolution but cautioned against extending individual accountability into individual fishing quotas, as used in the commercial halibut fishery.
“I just want to commend the workgroup for what’s been put together,” said Julie Bonney of the Groundfish Data Bank. “It stays at (a) higher level, which I think is positive.”
Darius Kasprzak, president of the Alaska Jig Association, similarly praised the resolution but cautioned against extending individual accountability into individual quotas. “If any one sector is privatized, it will set a precedent,” he said. “Vessels will crowd the jig fishery as the last open fishery.”
Six years ago, the Bering Sea crab fisheries were rationalized, with individual fishermen allotted certain amounts of crab.
Kodiak’s municipal governments failed to take a strong stand on the issue, and the number of crab fishermen fell sharply after rationalization was implemented, leading to criticism.
Kodiak’s municipal leaders have said they want to avoid a similar circumstance should the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery be rationalized, but any such process is years away at the earliest.
If the Kodiak City Council and Kodiak Island Borough Assembly approve the joint resolution at their meetings this month, Mayor Pat Branson and borough mayor Jerome Selby will present the resolution during the final day of the North Pacific meeting in Anchorage.
The meeting begins Oct. 3.