Sunday, June 12, 2016

Celebrate Trawling; The Economic Engine That Everyone Pays For

Subsistence, Sport, Charter, & Commercial Fishing Families Need A Stable Future Too!


Keep yer flippers wet.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Halibut Mortality 169%

Let's celebrate groundfish trawlers destroying another resource.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council divided the flatfish assemblage into four categories for management in 1990; "shallow flatfish" and "deep flatfish,” flathead sole (Hippoglossoides elassodon) and arrowtooth flounder (Atheresthes stomias). This classification was made because of the significant difference in halibut bycatch rates in directed fisheries targeting on shallow-water and deep-water flatfish species.

The major species, which account for the majority of the current biomass for shallow-water flatfish are: northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra), southern rock sole (Pleuronectes bilineata), butter sole (Pleuronectes isolepis), yellowfin sole (Pleuronectes asper), and starry flounder (Platichthys stellatus).

Keep yer flippers wet (with tears).

Friday, May 20, 2016

Destroying The Halibut Resource One Drag At A Time

Halibut, lots of halibut, are clearly visible on this dragger's deck and sorting table.

NMFS is no friend of the fisheries resources (like the Forest Service) that they are tasked with protecting, but their website is a source of shocking information regarding the Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) of Halibut.

Figures are in metric tons of halibut.
One metric ton equals 1000 kilograms or roughly 2200 pounds.  

So the Deep Water Species Complex trawlers caught and killed (80% mortality) 272 X 2200 = 598,000 X .8 = 478,720 pounds of halibut wasted.  Ex-vessel value at $6 a pound = $2,872,320 in the last six weeks.

The Shallow Water Species Complex trawlers caught and killed (80% mortality) 112 X 2200 = 246,400 = X .8 = 197,120 pounds of halibut wasted. Ex-vessel value at $6 a pound = $1,182,720 in the last six weeks.

The draggers will argue they are so important to the community that they must continue to fish. (We have heard them say the sooner halibut, crab and salmon are gone, the sooner they will be able to fish without restraint.) The target species are very low value fish.

If truck drivers were to run over pedestrians while pursuing their ways to work, we would remove the offending drivers.  Why not remove the dirty skippers from the fleet?  Surely some skippers can fish more cleanly than others. The draggers claim that is true, anyway. Let's not give the resources away to the dirtiest operators as is planned.

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is considering alternatives to control the race for fish and better manage the drag fleet in the Gulf of Alaska.  Alternative 2 gives away the groundfish of the Gulf to the draggers based on historical catch.  Alternative 3 would distribute the historical  bycatch.  The dirty skippers would get shut down by their excessive bycatch.  The clean skippers would be rewarded with the right to fish longer.  The rewards would go to the good stewards of the resource and the bums would go out the door.  Why the push-back from the draggers?  Are they afraid they can't fish clean?

To this date 747 metric tons of halibut PSC is taken.  At 80% percent mortality, that's 1,314,720 pounds of halibut.  Small fish, probably, so that's the future being wiped out.  For the commercial, subsistence, and sports fishers a terrible tragedy.  For the draggers, a cost of doing business that they don't have to pay.  $7,888,320 commercial ex-vessel value lost. Allowed to mature, at minimum commercial size, closer to $80 million lost. Why must we sacrifice our fishery (sport, subsistence, and commercial) for theirs?

Keep yer flippers wet.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dirty Dozen Trawlers on Halibut (So Far) 2016

All data is from Vessel Specific Bycatch Rates /NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office

For example, for every 100,000 pounds of shallow water flats, 36,000 pounds of halibut were destroyed and wasted by the trawler Laura.

 Mar del Norte was featured in the last post.  Think of that when you respond to:

Keep yer flippers wet.

Deckload of Halibut PSC Caught and Unobserved

Waste on a Grand Scale

Just when the Kodiak trawl fleet is announcing their "celebration of groundfish," dock talk includes the story of an unobserved deckload of halibut PSC by the Mar del Norte.  Estimates are as high as 80,000 pounds of wasted halibut.

Where are the cameras?  Observers are too few and far between to make a difference in the ongoing destruction of our public resources by sloppy and careless operators.  VMS tracks tell the tale.  When observed, trawlers fish somewhere clean; without an observer, trawlers go to the Sand Box or some other rich place and wreak havoc.

As Scott Houcoma, skipper of the Pacific Storm explains in his NPFMC testimony at the February Portland meeting:

“The bycatch numbers are wrong. We don’t do enough survey work and there is way more halibut out there than anybody is acknowledging.
“We see ‘em everyday.  And this elephant in the room---the 100% …observer program…that might be workable if we started with the right amount of numbers, but we don’t have the right numbers of halibut out there.

“It is way more than you guys are talking about here.  We can’t take 100% observer coverage when there is so much more halibut than you are already talking about.  It isn’t going to work.” 02/02/2016 C-2 Public Testimony, recorder time 9:10:59 

In other words, Capt. Houcoma is admitting before the Council that 100% observed trawling would shut down the industry due to the high rates of halibut bycatch.  It is only through gaming the observer system that they can continue to trawl on and waste the halibut resource.

Nice for the community.  Let's celebrate.

Keep yer flippers wet.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Every Halibut Counts!

Count every halibut; like King Salmon are counted in bycatch statistics.  The current system of counting halibut poundage is a corrupted statistical method to minimize the terrible damage being done by trawlers in the GOA and the BSAI.  NMFS denies that halibut grow and become economically valuable assets in the fish market, by denying the existence/value of small halibut.  If that halibut is six inches long or sixty inches long, it needs to count.  Current methodology converts halibut bycatch to a poundage based upon recovery rates as applied in the directed fishery.  This is the definition of bullshit.  Each halibut has the potential to grow and become part of the directed or sport fishery unless it is bycaught and discarded by (primarily) the drag fishery.  Count every halibut.  The bean counters will scream, but it is irresponsible to do it any other way.   Every halibut counts.

All this has developed from when the groundfishery was just a gleam in the trawlerman's eye.  I recall when no groundfish were delivered to processors.  We fished shrimp, and shitty state management and greed and the mythology of endless resources wiped them out.

None were left.


Anything to jump start the groundfishery was sought by fishermen, innovative processors, and NMFS in an attempt to win the cold war on the high seas.  Yes, there was a cold war on the high seas.  To distort bycatch, whether King Salmon, halibut, or King and Tanner crab was the cost of getting this bottom fishery going.  "Throw all the bycatch over, we can straighten that out when the bottom fishery is strong"  Marginalizing bycatch was necessary.  It was the cost of doing business...for the start-up groundfish business.  It basically spelled the end of King crab.  Well, people, we are there.  We have arrived.  The groundfish business is on its feet and supporting communities.  Now with limited access, it's owners are making huge profits. But they are operating under a start-up regime that is costing other successful and productive directed fisheries their very life.  The success of the drag fleet is costing subsistence and sports fishers their opportunities.  This start-up dragger regime is using antiquated jump start methods to rape profits from the BSAI and the GOA with the blessing of the NPFMC.  Now is the time to stop this insanity and start managing draggers like other responsible resource harvesters.  If draggers can't participate without extinguishing whole species and ecological niches, then they should not be allowed.  If the NPFMC can't see that innovation should be rewarded for clean fishing; that a free pass to destroy a whole species isn't good management, they need to be removed as responsible managers.

Keep yer flippers wet.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

King Crab Decline Examined

Review of “King Crabs of the World”
Review by Braxton Dew
NMFS, Ret.

The Elephant In the Room

Alaskans who pick up Brad Stevens’ book, King Crabs of the World, are likely to browse through its pages looking for answers to the question: “Whatever happened to the king crab?”. If they make it to page 589, readers will be disappointed to hear editor Stevens’ say, “…. We will never know what caused the dramatic changes in the abundance of Bering Sea RKC after 1978”. One of the reasons we will never know is that this book studiously avoids taking an honest look at the elephant in the room — the breaching of red king crab no-trawl sanctuaries by commercial groundfish trawling during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The central theme running through the book is that adult  king crab are immeasurably more likely to be killed by natural causes, including a slight rise in sea-surface temperature, than to be killed by being dragged up in a bottom trawl (in which chances of survival are said to be good). The stated opinion of editor Stevens (p.369), is that crab bycatch mortality in groundfish trawl fisheries  is low. According to Stevens, critics’ claims to the contrary verge on the fantastic and are often tinged with prejudice. The bottom line is that bycatch “probably represents only a small fraction of overall king crab mortality” (p.xviii).

Natural Mortality Is the Only Mortality

In case there is any confusion as to the uber-dominant role of natural mortality, authors Zheng and Kruse in their management model (p.530) categorize all trawl-killed crab as having succumbed to natural mortality. Using this slight-of-hand, any fishing  mortality spikes caused by commercial trawling in the newly breached sanctuaries were interpreted as natural deaths. Zheng and Kruse offer the usual laundry list of natural-mortality elements — predation, cannibalism, senescence, and disease — but are not forthcoming as to the model’s inclusion of trawl bycatch as a source of “natural” mortality. The Zheng-Kruse Bering Sea red king crab model may be the only fisheries model in the world that so profoundly conflates man’s fishing (F) with natural mortality (M). Go to the link below to see an example of “natural” mortality according to the Zheng-Kruse model. No wonder the authors had to inflate M (by nearly 10X) during 1980-1984 (p.530).

Where Did They Go?

The beat goes on in Chap.3, p.48: “…. ocean-climate shifts in the Bering Sea from 1975 to 2001 led ….  to a shift in the center of abundance from the southwest part of the bay in the 1970s to the center of the bay in the 1980s.” The Chap.3 authors carelessly cite Loher and Armstrong (2005) for their authority. But Loher and Armstrong (2005) say: “The hypothesis that ovigerous crabs actively move to avoid cold conditions does little to explain the disappearance of the southwestern component of the population. Between 1976 and 1981, broodstock abundance declined by ~94% in the Unimak region, representing nearly 80 million crabs.”

What, then, could explain the spatially explicit disappearance of red king crab from the southwestern sector of their Bristol Bay range, as noted by Loher and Armstrong? Below is a Bering Sea trawling-distribution map that may help interested readers form their own hypothesis as to what might have happened to crab in the southwestern sector of their range.

 The trawl-density distribution of observed tows and observed joint-venture deliveries within 25-km2 grid squares during 1973–2001. The white boundary line shows the old (1959-1977) Japanese Broodstock Sanctuary (Dew 2010b). Trawling intensity is highest in the Unimak area and relatively low in the more offshore area to the northeast, where the present-day broodstock remains (Fig.3, Dew and McConnaughey, 2005)

A glance at the Bering Sea trawl distribution will enable many readers to come up with a theory more credible than that advanced by editor Stevens (p.588) that the crab, whose population had grown in an unrestrained manner to unsustainable heights, essentially did it to themselves. According to Stevens, the height from which RKC fell was an abundance level that was “anomalous”, resulting from a supportive environment and lower fishing levels, which have never reoccurred. “What we should wonder about is not so much that the abundance …. declined but that they ever reached such a high abundance level in the first place. Even without fishing it was ecologically unsustainable and would have declined due to natural mortality ….”. In sum, Stevens goes on, the decline of adult red king crab should not have been a surprise to anyone (p.587).

Improbable Population Trend Is Suspect

Editor Stevens is right about one thing, though: we should have wondered — not about the crab but about the NMFS population estimates, which were increasingly biased during 1975-1980 by an inexplicable number of extra, non-design-based tows made at high-abundance, male-dominant stations (Dew 2010a). Too often the NMFS estimates are published and accepted as if they are free of bias or sampling error. But because of the patchy spatial distribution of podding crab, each year’s estimate of red king crab abundance is associated with a large measure of uncertainty. Figure 17.5 of Chap.17 (Zheng and Kruse) shows population estimates surrounded by confidence intervals, many of which are at least ±30-60% of the mean, with some approaching or exceeding ±100% (e.g., 1984 and 1991). The ±80-90% uncertainty surrounding the 1991 estimate, for example, was caused by a single survey tow that hit a large pod of adult legal male crab on the “bachelor grounds” (Dew 2008).

An assumption of assessment surveys is that the observed trend in annual survey estimates is reasonably well-correlated with a real abundance trend in the underlying population. However, if confidence intervals around the annual estimates are wide enough (i.e., if the uncertainty of the survey esti­mates is great enough), the survey-derived trend may bear little or no resemblance to the actual abundance changes in the population. The high level of imprecision of NMFS king crab survey estimates, combined with bias from ad hoc extra sampling at high abundance stations, raises the question whether the 1975-1980 data can be used to define a trend, or whether such a trend tells us much, if anything, about actual abundance changes in the underlying population. My own statistical examination reveals that there were no significant (< 0.05) differences among the consecutive six years, 1975 through 1980, nor were there significant differences among any of the 15 year-pairs (e.g., 1975 vs. 1978, a period during which the population was thought to increase by >100%). Thus, it is likely that the “anomalous” and “ecologically unsustainable” abundance spike reportedly achieved by Bristol Bay red king crab was nothing but a mirage — the product of an imprecise survey biased by repeated, nonrandom sampling in areas of high legal-male crab abundance. For more details, click on the link below to Podding Behavior of Adult King Crab and Its Effect on Abundance-Estimate Precision:

NMFS Warned Us

In an effort to show that the most spectacular crash in the history of U.S fisheries management did not blindside NMFS officials, Stevens (p.587) claims that, based on “warnings issued by the NMFS” (no documentation as to what warnings), the Bering Sea collapse “should not have been a surprise to anyone”. Stevens then erroneously uses Orensanz et al. (1998) as support, stating (p.588) that exploitation of the legal male stock rose to >70%, sex ratios became highly skewed in favor of females (M:F = 1:6), and the occurrence of barren females increased dramatically. Stevens goes on to say, ”Clearly, this was an unsupportable level of effort, and under such pressure it is no surprise that the [Bering Sea] crash occurred so quickly”.

The problem with all of this is that Orensanz et al. (1998) did not write about Bering Sea crab. The Orensanz warning signs reiterated by editor Stevens were for Kodiak, not Bering Sea king crab. As for Bering Sea warnings, instead of Orensanz we had Otto (1985) declaring that Bering Sea imbalances in sex ratio have been negligible and have placed no constraints on reproductive success; and Otto (1986) specifying that the “Bristol Bay catch never exceeded 60% of the estimated legal stock”. Both of these pieces of information later turned out to be incorrect (Dew and McConnaughey 2005). Moreover, because the NMFS survey is conducted during king crab spawning and spawning occurs well inshore of the survey-sampling boundary, investigators have been unable to reliably monitor mating success (barren females) or king crab sex ratios in the Bering Sea (Dew 2008). It is simply not credible to imply that NMFS or any other organization was savvy enough to warn us of the impending dismantling of Alaska’s most valuable fishery.

Ex-Managers In Denial

On p.395 Stevens says the question of whether or not trawling contributed to the decline of Bering Sea king crab stocks in the early 1980s is “debatable”. However, Stevens’ book presents little or no debate. Instead, there are denials (p.128) that the work of others is valid. For example, on p.931 of their paper, Dew and McConnaughey (2005) stated that the rate of decline of broodstock density with trawling in the Unimak area was 1.9 times that of a more lightly trawled offshore area, and that these rates of decline were statistically different (P < 0.05). This is not a startling finding — more trawling, less crab remain on the grounds. No one fabricated data — the crab densities and the number of trawl drags came from NMFS. Yet author Otto, without presenting any data or analysis of his own, flatly denies that there was any statistically discernible effect of trawling on the rates of decline in crab abundance within the two areas.

Quibbles About Survival

Why does author Otto bother trying to discredit an unsurprising revelation that trawling captures crab and more trawling captures more crab? Consider the following from Dew and McConnaughey (2005, pp.931-932):

“Given the rate and magnitude of these declines, and considering that two different levels of trawling activity in the Unimak and offshore areas each moved the local population quickly toward extinction, it is apparent that the survival of discarded, trawl-caught crab is negligible. That is, the long-term survival of red king crab affected by commercial trawling is insufficient to offset the mortality and social disruption caused by past and present levels of trawling”.

This conclusion renders irrelevant the results from myriad, ever-ongoing survival studies reported in this book and elsewhere. Moreover, it negates unwarranted optimism as to the survival of trawl-caught crab (e.g., p.128). After all, when the crab are gone, how relevant are quibbles about survival?

Male Reproductive Potential — Chronic Overestimation?

Chap.10, Reproductive Ecology.  Whenever the management of a major fishery such as Alaska’s king crab fishery is described by reputable scientists as a “failure” (Wooster 1992) or a “debacle” (Orensanz et al. 1998), it is probably time to reassess key management assumptions. A present assumption needing further scrutiny is that mature male king crab, in the wild, participate in mating shortly after molting. According to Powell et al.(1973) and Powell et al. (2002), caged males can engage in mating after a post-molt recovery period of as little as ten days. Compare this with Paul et al. (1995), who determined that the molt-recuperation period for male Tanner crab was at least 100 days; and Sainte-Marie et al. (1999, 2002), who reported that male snow crab did not mate in the same year they molted. Going further, the Powell et al. assertion rests on the shaky bedrock of yet another assumption — that investigators can accurately determine the time since last molt, in months, by visual inspection of a wild crab’s shell. Countering all this is a substantial body of evidence (link below) that wild king crab do not molt and mate in the same year

Author Webb’s chapter on reproduction could have benefitted from a more detailed discussion of this issue, given that his chapter includes sections on “Molting and Mating”, “Mating Ability” and “Male Reproductive Potential” (MRP). Although Takeshita et al. (1990) are cited for their tagging work on king crab migration, Webb omits the fact that this same tagging data led Takeshita et al. to conclude that only 50% of Bristol Bay’s mature male population, mostly old-shell skip-molts, participate in mating in any given year. The other 50% remains offshore on “bachelor grounds”, far from known spawning grounds, recuperating from the winter molt (e.g., Dew 2008).

The answer to the question of whether or not all mature males participate each year in mating has a profound effect on the management of a male-only fishery. For example, if Takeshita et al. (1990) are correct, then MRP values calculated by the model during the past 25 years are likely to have been overestimated by a factor of 2X (only half of the mature males mate each year, while the other half is molting). Furthermore, if males do not mate in the same year they molt, assurances (p.300) that males will be able to mate once or twice before their harvest are little more than wishful thinking. It is not good science to ignore reasonable, well-published, data-based hypotheses, either in the management of a stock or the writing of a book chapter. A better idea might be to provide evidence, if available, that disproves such hypotheses. Also, with regard to the presumption that there is some precise correspondence between shell condition and shell age, it would be prudent to consider the possibility that, although all new shells are clean, not all clean shells are new.

What Is Depensation?

In 1966, Kodiak’s Gulf of Alaska (GOA) fishery provided the bulk of the U.S. red king crab catch (70,000 tons vs. 450 tons from the Bering Sea). We might expect the dismaying and complete loss of the GOA fishery (commercially extinct now for more than 30 years) to have stimulated critical examination of a core management assumption — that calling a halt to fishing will permit an overfished stock to recover from low abundance levels. This assumption relies on the idea of compensatory density-dependence, which is the mechanism underlying all logistic-growth models, including the Ricker stock-recruitment curve — a mainstay of Bristol Bay king crab management. In addition to positing reduced per capita production at high stock sizes, the Ricker compensatory model incorporates the notion that at extremely low population levels — indeed, when the population is on the verge of extinction — the per capita production of recruits is highest.

The compensatory model makes no allowance for populations whose reproductive success, over some range of population size, increases with the size of its aggregations. Nor is this model relevant for populations whose per capita growth rate goes to zero well before the population size goes to zero. Editor Stevens asks (p.588) why did king crab not rebound when fishing was halted? The answer is that managers are using a model, developed for salmon, that does not work for red king crab. That is, they are using a model that does not allow for depensation, does not make provision for an Allee effect, and does not account for declining individual fitness and per capita production as the population nears extinction — all of which are earmarks of Alaska’s highly gregarious red king crab populations. Both the Bristol Bay red king crab and the North American passenger pigeon have commonalities that conform to the checklist below. For more on depensation and environmental conditioning, click on the following link to Historical Perspective On Habitat Essential To Bristol Bay Red King Crab:

Literature Cited

Dew, C.B. 2008. Red king crab mating success, sex ratio, spatial distribution, and abundance estimates as artifacts of survey timing in Bristol Bay, Alaska. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 25:1618-1637.

Dew, C.B. 2010a. Podding behavior of adult king crab and its effect on abundance-estimate precision. Pages 129-151 in Biology and Management of Exploited Crab Populations under Climate Change. Alaska Sea Grant, AK-SG-10-01, Fairbanks. 562 pp.

Dew, C.B. 2010b. Historical perspective on habitat essential to Bristol Bay red king crab. Pages 377-402 in Biology and Management of Exploited Crab Populations under Climate Change. Alaska Sea Grant, AK-SG-10-01, Fairbanks. 562 pp.

Dew, C. B., and R. A. McConnaughey. 2005. Did trawling on the broodstock contribute to the collapse of Alaska’s king crab? Ecological Applications 15:919–941.
Liermann, M., and R. Hilborn. 2001. Depensation: evidence, models and impli­cations. Fish. 2:33-58.
Loher, T., and D.A. Armstrong. 2005. Historical changes in the abundance and distribution of ovigerous red king crabs (Paralithodes camtschaticus) in Bristol Bay (Alaska), and potential relationship with bottom temperature. Fisheries Oceanography 14:292-306.

Orensanz, J.M., J. Armstrong, D. Armstrong, and R. Hilborn. 1998. Crustacean resources are vulnerable to serial depletion: the multifaceted decline of crab and shrimp fisheries in the greater Gulf of Alaska. Rev. Fish Biol. Fish. 8:117-176.

Otto, R.S. 1985. Management of Alaskan king crab stocks in relation to the possible effects of past policies. Pages 447–481 in B. R. Melteff, coordinator. Proceedings of the
international king crab symposium. Report 85-12. University of Alaska Sea Grant Program, Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

Otto, R.S. 1986. Management and assessment of eastern Bering Sea king crab stocks. Pages 83-106 in G.S. Jamieson and N. Bourne (eds.), North Pacific workshop on stock assessment and management of invertebrates. Canadian Special Publication of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 92.

Paul, A.J., J.M. Paul, and W.E. Donaldson. 1995. Shell condition and breeding success in Tanner crabs. Journal of Crustacean Biology15(3):476-480.

Powell, G. C., B. Shafford, and M. Jones. 1973. Reproductive biology of young adult king crabs, Paralithodes camtschatica (Tilesius), at Kodiak, Alaska. Proceedings of the National Shellfisheries Association 63:77–87.

Powell, G.C., D. Pengilly, and S.F. Blau. 2002. Mating pairs of red king crabs (Paralithodes camtschatica) in the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska, 1960-1984. Pages 225-245 in Crabs in cold water regions: biology, management, and economics. University of Alaska Sea Grant, AK-SG-02-01, Fairbanks. 876 pp.

Sainte-Marie, B., J.-M. Sevigny, and M. Carpentier. 2002. Interannual variability of sperm reserves and fecundity of primiparous females of the snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) in relation to sex ratio. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 59:1932–1940.

Sainte-Marie, B., N. Urbani, J.-M. Sevigny, F. Hazel, and U. Kuhnlein. 1999. Multiple choice criteria and the dynamics of assortive mating during the first breeding season of female snow crab, Chionoecetes opilio (Brachyura, Majidae). Marine Ecology Progress Series 181:141–153.

Takeshita, K., H. Fujita, and S. Matsuura. 1990. A note on population structure in the eastern Bering Sea adult red king crab, Paralithodes camtschatica. Pages 427–433 in Proceedings of the International Symposium on King and Tanner Crabs. University of Alaska Sea Grant, AK-SG-90-04, Fairbanks.

Wilson, E.O. 1975. Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Belknap Press, Cambridge. 697 pp.

Wooster, W.S. 1992. King crab dethroned. Pages 14-30 in M.H. Glantz, editor. Climate, variability, climate change, and fisheries. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

While Trawlers Race to Privatize the Gulf of Alaska New Studies Find Trawling is Terribly Destructive. But is that news?

"Now a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds this method (trawling) is also resulting in long term, far reaching consequences in the deeper ocean and beyond."


"In the North Pacific, the practice accounts for 18% of the annual groundfish harvests, and 82% of the region's discarded bycatch.  At times, bycatch accounts for 90% of a net's total catch."

So the big money has not silenced all of fish science.  The money that the trawl industry produces does influence both local and regional governments and extends its influence to science, especially NOAA's.

"In addition to directly killing many fish and other marine species, studies have shown that bottom trawling is very destructive to the seabed.  It dislodges sediment, which destroys habitat of the ground dwelling organisms, makes the water more opaque and unsuitable to many species, and releases pollutants and carbon that had been trapped below the seafloor."

More at:

Keep yer flippers wet.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Failure of Restructured Observer Program

The restructuring of the observer program went into effect in 2013 and resulted in the entire groundfish fleet (trawlers, longliners, pot boats) being required at least in part to carry observers.  While this may seem a good thing, it reduced the amount of coverage for trawlers to between 13 and 15 percent down from roughly 30 percent.  Trawlers, due to their large volume catches, have the greatest impact on bycatch species, including PSC (prohibited species catch) of halibut, Chinook, and crab.  NMFS seemed pleased that they found that longliners had a bycatch rate above what they had expected, (remember that the survival rate of bycatch for longliners is around 89% and the survival rate for trawlers is around 25%, according to NMFS.)

One vessel, the CP (catcher/processor) Golden Fleece lost its special exemption to the 100% observer coverage for CPs with the restructured observer progam. (See Old and New 50 CFR below). We have argued that when trawlers are observed, their behavior changes; they hide their bycatch by fishing cleaner grounds and making other changes in order to appear to be clean fishing.  If indeed,  the CP Golden Fleece had now to fish 100% observed, her recorded bycatch should change too.  Golden Fleece would be forced to fish as usual without an opportunity to hide her bycatch.  Using NMFS data let's take a look.

Chinook salmon numbers in blue, the observer numbers in red.

Conclusion.  Allowing trawlers to game when to fish clean, obscures the true impact of their fishing on the resources in the GOA.  When the restructured observer program reduced the percentage of observed trawling, it mostly likely allowed the trawlers to hide their actual bycatch. Therefore, NMFS has colluded to hide the impact of trawling on the GOA, while emphasizing the bycatch of other gear groups.


Old 50 CFR 679.50:

(ii) Amendment 80 vessels in the GOA. Except for the F/V GOLDEN FLEECE (USCG Documentation Number 609951), all Amendment 80 vessels, except when directed fishing for scallops using dredge gear, in the GOA must have onboard at least one NMFS-certified observer for each day that the vessel is used to harvest, receive, or process groundfish in the GOA management areas or adjacent waters open by the State of Alaska for which it adopts a Federal fishing season.

New 50 CFR 679.50:

(2) Groundfish and halibut fishery full observer coverage category—(i) Vessel classes in the full coverage category.The following classes of vessels are in the full observer coverage category when harvesting halibut or when harvesting, receiving, or processing groundfish in a federally managed or parallel groundfish fishery, as defined at §679.2:

(A) Catcher/processors;

The Golden Fleece Hits the Halibut Hard Too.

The graph representing the Golden Fleece's increase in halibut PSC bycatch when fully observed is not as dramatic as it is with King Salmon, but probably deserves airing.  Not quite double the increase, but still telling.

Obviously halibut bycatch was on the upswing in 2012, but when you remove the blinders of selected observation there is a 61% increase in halibut PSC bycatch over 2012, and 900% over their reported  bycatch of halibut in 2011.  Remember, the Golden Fleece has a hold capacity of at least 200,000 pounds, so we are talking roughly 4000 pounds of halibut per trip.  She made 26 trips to the end of September.  100,000 pounds of halibut?

Who is getting fleeced here?

Keep yer flippers wet.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dirty Peggy Jo's Brazen Behavior at Trident Dock

The Peggy Jo has for a number of years been a scandalously dirty trawler.  During a cod season a few years back she was responsible for shutting down the cod season by ignoring the warnings of other trawlers and hitting the halibut very hard with full observer coverage.  Later she was rumored to purposely make dirty drags just to get in her licks in on those who crowed so much about bycatch. That guy runs another local trawler today.  So it goes. Without full observer coverage, the level of waste of valuable resources can only be imagined.  The public outcry would cause endless trouble for the bottom line of these dirty players if the truth were known. So it is that there is little photographic or video evidence available to the public.  Cameras are simply not allowed aboard these boats.  Crew are paid well enough that few will cross the line and turn 'state's evidence' against these boats.  But then who would they turn it in to?  NMFS knows perfectly well what is going on and prefers to see commerce over conservation.

The dock talk goes on and guys continually quit crewing on draggers because they can't stand the waste. Here is just a tiny example, brazenly feeding sea lions at the Trident dock with PSC (Prohibited Species Catch) halibut. When the feds were called about this, the responding agent purportedly laughed and said, "Trawlers really hate those halibut."  No shit, Sherlock.  And king salmon, and crab, and the list goes on.


Note:  We have slowed the video down to 12% so you can see clearly what is going on, and edited out some slow spots. Filmed on October 23, 2013.  Source withheld by request.
Where is the equity in the justice system?  Can you envision the judge's outrage in court at your wanton waste? What is that conviction going to cost you, your guide's license?  Getting busted for one fish over the line, Sweet Jesus!  Feeding sea lions?  There is simply no justice here.  Where ever trawlers unload, there are often piles of halibut under the docks unless, like this smart boy, he throws them into the jaws of waiting sea lions.

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But keep yer flippers wet.