Sunday, February 28, 2010

Some things never change.

The way I first heard it, twenty or more years ago, was there was a trawler crewman who was making himself extra money selling king salmon bycatch he brought home from each fishing trip. Had 'em the freezer and if you were in the loop, you could drive to TT's trailer court and buy a nice king salmon fresh frozen, or if you were lucky, not even frozen yet!

This week, rumor has it, that trawler king salmon bycatch is high and those not thrown overboard on the grounds are making their way to the unloading docks and processor floors where workers are getting a winter protein boost from fresh winter kings that they are taking home. An outraged witness has been making trouble calling around for enforcement. Don't hold yer breath waiting for action on this. Some things never change.

Keep yer flippers wet.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Trawling is Hard Work...

Overheard at a recent get together; a greenhorn crewman was explaining why he thought crewing on a trawler was such hard work...

"I average four hours a day just throwing over the halibut we catch. That's a back breaker!"

More like a heart breaker.
Keep yer flippers wet.

Friday, February 19, 2010

An Open Letter to Eric Schwaab, National Marine Fisheries Service

Dear Mr. Schwaab,

Welcome to the arena. The fans are in the stands and the various challengers await you as the point man gladiator fighting for the future of American fisheries. The walls surrounding the arena contain the trap doors holding your challengers.

  • Out of the NE trap swaggers the tiger of resource depletion and unlimited capacity.
  • Out of the SE trap springs the lion of commercial and sport conflict.
  • Out of the S trap rushes the crocodile of habitat destruction.
  • Out of the SW trap lunges the cyclops of exponential development.
  • And out of the NW trap lumbers the great bear of gargantuan capacity and wasteful practices.

All these challengers, Mr. Schwaab, have a limitless appetite for a limited resource. They are myopic, savage, and self centered. They are concerned primarily with the moment; they lust for getting theirs now. Though I gave them individual personalities they share most of their characteristics with one another. I know them because I am a commercial fisherman too. They are both my friends and my foes. In their shortsighted pursuit of wealth now, the worst of them doom the very life they love. So in order to save them from themselves you must control them. Not crush them but bend them to your will and the will of law.

My area of concern, because I live here, is the Gulf of Alaska

The Ocean Conservancy gave the the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council an A grade in 2008. Shame on them! They don't know what they are doing. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has only one thing going for it...the resources in the North Pacific and Bering Sea were very abundant to start with and not enough time has gone by to extinguish them, as has happened in the Atlantic. The NPFMC has potential. But the members of that body are, for the most part, wholly owned and operated by large commerical fishing and fish processing corporations whose financial well being is dependent upon fisheries resource extraction at the highest possible rate and for the lowest possible cost. Many of those interests are foreign owned. They have little concern over the long term consequences of their actions. Of our greatest concern, the trawl fisheries in the North Pacific are conducted like a war on fish. They are apportioned a huge amount of Prohibited Species Catch, and then are not observed in the taking of that catch. In catching their targeted species they are allowed (to continue the war analogy) to bomb, pillage, loot, and destroy the the benthic habitat and non-target species found there. Just because they are not observed doesn't mean it isn't happening. The observer program is broken and has been since day one. The smoke and mirrors public relations used by the trawlers is very sophisticated. They hire their own data firm, propaganda wing, and political organizers who can be seen handing out trawler data to the NPFMC like it was truth. When combined with their processor allies and compromised politicos, they generally get their way with the Council process.

For instance, each year in the Gulf of Alaska, the trawlers legally waste 2000 metric tons of halibut PSC worth at least $13 million dollars so they can conduct their fisheries. This is only their reported PSC of halibut. There is little doubt among the fleet that the actual waste is far higher, perhaps twice as high or more than is reported. Without observers, or with seasick observers, no one knows for sure. Meanwhile the central gulf ITQ halibut fleet suffers reduced quotas, downstream American and Canadian ITQ halibut fishermen suffer huge reductions in quotas, charter boats suffer reductions of catch and clients, and in general the resource diminishes every year. That is the way king crab went.

For crab in the Gulf of Alaska, the story is basically the same. With bobbin or roller gear the crab are crushed to pieces, no observable data surfaces if there happens to be a conscious observer aboard. Except in rare cases, as the one we published here, where fishing crew were so disgusted by the wanton waste they took pictures; otherwise, the damage is never accounted for. King crab around Kodiak built the larger vessel fleet. King crab capitalised many of today's bigger players. King crab is nearly extinct now. It should be listed as endangered. The more abundant tanner crab, have shown some sign of comeback, but the trawlers, unless controlled, will be the end of them as well. Trawls hit them in the nurseries, in the breeding pods, and on the feeding grounds.

So called pelagic (midwater) trawl gear, when not getting ripped up on lost or fishing crab pots hard on the bottom, is killing off uncounted numbers of Chinook salmon. On Kodiak Island, chinook salmon are in such low numbers the famous Karluk and Aiakulik Rivers have failed in their escapement goals and have been closed. Stories circulate the dock gossip about huge catches of chinooks off Spruce Island and off the west side of Kodiak in the Shelikof Strait. No data observed, low observer coverage, never happened? Help, sir, we need your help. Raise your righteous sword. The Bering Sea lost chum and chinooks are starving the subsistence users of the coasts and rivers. Trawlers after pollock are blamed. Too big, too rich, too influential to be reined in.

So Mr. Schwaab, we are counting on you, in your gladiator incarnation, to be a fair and square guy and to fight like hell for the fisheries. Or if it is the NMFS's intent to destroy the crab stocks and the halibut stocks and the benthic environment so a few trawlers can reap huge profits on a foundation of waste, please just tell us so. In either case, come on and hit us with the truth. But if you are up for a fight to save the Alaskan fisheries...let us help you with that too.

Finally, as to the drum roll for privatization of the fishery resources as heard from your boss, Dr. Lubchenco, and perhaps well meaning green groups, remember: ITQs etc., are only tools. Unless they are very carefully designed, they will not stop waste, benthic destruction, and resource degradation. Dangerously, however, they do promote consolidation of ownership of the resources for corporate interests who by law are charged with making profits for shareholders, not with resource management or protection. The history of ITQs has shown that they give preference to well capitaled entities, non-local ownership, result in share cropping, high rents, and the high grading of fish. They negate new entry by younger fishermen, resulting in the graying of the fleet and the disintegration of fishing dependent families and their coastal communities. ITQs are no panacea for conservation of the resources at all, regardless of the spin various nonfishing groups have given them. As in so many cases of external do-gooder interference in the affairs of others, "We'll save them even if it kills them."

With all due respect sir, keep your flippers wet.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Report, Rumor, Analysis

Potential changes to halibut hired skipper regs forwarded for further analysis by NPFMC staff. PVOA and DSFU are adamantly opposed to reform.

Large owners of halibut IFQ commonly loan the 20% cash down payment required by the NMFS loan program to their crew members. So who really controls/owns that IFQ? Hint: Follow the money. Where the hell is the IRS?

Options are moving forward to require observers on small vessels fishing groundfish, including halibut. The buzz word is data gaps, quality data. Thinly veiled attempt by trawlers to reduce the pressure on their hidden dirty fishing by allying with other gear groups. Refuse them the compromise they crave. Do not go over to the dark side.

Bruce Leaman says only 50 million pounds of halibut are missing. Says bycatch needs reduction. (Really?)

Denby Lloyd wants assessments of halibut bycatch by October 2010.

SOS. Same Old Stuff. A Kodiak trawler, the Sea Mac, cod trawling last month came up with a huge bycatch of halibut while the observer was in the bunk, sea sick. Estimates ranged up to 20K pounds. They set back and killed 20K more! WTF. That is $720,000 at current IFQ prices. Tell me it ain't true. 'Sammatter wit you? Do you care? No more coffee at that place for me.

The Kodiak Chamberpot of Commerce forwarded only Matt Moir's name to the Governor for the NPFMC. They didn't know we already have a hard working Member? Not possible. If we lose our current Kodiak Member, the replacement will promote the agenda of foreign processor and trawler interests, and the interests of boots on deck owner/operators will be damaged. If you want to have any chance of making progress at the NPFMC, write letters of support by the end of February for Duncan Fields and Sam Cotten to:

Office of Governor Sean Parnell
Attn: Jason Hooley, Director of Boards and Commissions
PO Box 110001
Juneau, AK 99811-0001

Cora Campbell
Fisheries Policy Advisor
PO Box 110001
Juneau, AK 99811-0001

We have no evidence? The resources are collapsing. The trawlers operate without or around observers; some sell and transfer at sea their cod bycatch to their former crew operating jig boats. They bring refused loads to the dock that are wasted and dumped. They rip out the bellies of their pelagic trawls dragging up crab pots. They regularly destroy and damage far more than they deliver. Everyone on the waterfront knows the story, but the very officials charged by the the people through their government to manage and protect these resources are too distracted or compromised to demand protection of the resources. Way past time to revolt, friends, the trawlers and their allies need to be brought down. Demand change.

Several AP and NPFMC Members are qualified to join the Corrupt Bastards Club. To figure out who they are, pay close attention to how they vote on controlling bycatch. Nothing of consequence came out of the Portland meeting, just potential. Meanwhile crab fishermen, salmon fishermen, halibut fishermen, charter fishermen, sportsfishermen, and subsistence fishermen wait while the resources are hammered by the horrific bycatch like that we posted on this blog .

Don't be afraid of observer coverage on the under sixty fleet. This is a smoke screen aimed by the trawlers to distract from their continuing dirty fishing. All fisheries have bycatch. Some fisheries are just plain dirty, with unacceptable levels of bycatch and benthic destruction. Under scrutiny, the truth of trawler destruction will require major changes in the way they operate, if they operate. Support the changes to observer coverage that will expose the truth.

Keep yer flippers wet.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Alaska PFD to Pay for Trawler Theft?

From a memo to Denby Lloyd, Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game:

"Last night at the Edgewater Hotel, we were told by a halibut processor who attended Steve Hare's presentation to the PAG (Processor Advisory Group) that Steve admitted to them that the (at least) 100 million pounds of missing halibut that the IPHC cannot account for these past four years was caused by 'un-reported GOA trawl bycatch.' Steve never told that to us fishermen on the Conference Board, which really stinks. I request 2 minutes tomorrow morning to put this on the record at our Observer Committee Meeting at AFSC (Alaska Fisheries Science Center). Denby, this is grotesque and it suggests that the IPHC process itself is warped towards favoritism, which we have NEVER believed before, NOT ONCE. We trust Bruce Leaman and Greg Best. But Steve makes us wonder now. Plus, why wouldn't Jim Balsinger and Ralphie Hoard come clean with us yesterday? Don't they think we can handle it?

"Can you please call Steve on the carpet tomorrow and make him explain why he failed to fully inform us fishermen and the Observer Committee of what he knew about the status of our halibut stocks. Based just on what the Canadians told us yesterday, they'll insist on being compensated for this and we long-liners don't have deep pockets to pay them off. I'll bet you they start ogling the trawlers' ITQs or that $34 billion in the Alaska Permanent Fund (to get the Council's attention) just to bring this issue to a boil when they address the NPFMC in Portland next month. Trust me, they are really pissed off now and it seems unlikely they'll take it anymore (remember Peter Finch's 1976 performance in Network? "We are made as hell and we are not going to take it anymore." Double it!)

"Don't mean to ruin your day."

An Alaska Fisherman (name withheld)

Keep yer flippers wet.