Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alaska Journal of Commerce Reports Rockfish Decision

Rockfish program signals shift in state fisheries policy

By Andrew Jensen
Alaska Journal of Commerce

"The Alaska delegation to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council signaled a shift in policy at the June meeting in Sitka. The group severed processor ties to harvesters and took steps to sharply curtail transfer and leasing of catch allocations for the Gulf of Alaska rockfish fishery.
"The six voting members from Alaska, which include Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd, represent a controlling bloc of the 11-member federal council that governs the Gulf of Alaska fishing waters.
"The Alaska delegation successfully pushed for a dramatic overhaul of the five-year rockfish pilot program scheduled to sunset after the 2011 season.
"Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak said the "important, innovative" structural changes to the rockfish program were intended to not only shape state policy, but national policy as well by emphasizing cooperative fishing over individual fishing quotas. "

Read the complete article:

Although we've blasted the NPFMC decision regarding the halibut PSC swaps and gaming that goes on in the Rockfish Program and the observer program, we have to admit that there seems to be a change of tide coming regarding the heretofore carte blanche that the trawler industry has had with regard to decisions by the NPFMC. With the recent reappointment of Duncan Fields of Kodiak and Sam Cotten of Eagle River, it appears that their actions have the stamp of approval by the Obama Administration and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. This is good news for Alaska. For too long, the Council has acted as part of the colonial government of Alaska, setting policy and making money primarily for outside interests, both foreign and domestic, whose concern was profits at the expense of the resident Alaska fishermen and resident Alaska fish resources. I know, I know, some trawlermen are residents, some few. The decisions on rockfish and (we shall see) the preliminary moves to protect tanner crab and Chinook salmon in the Gulf of Alaska to be further addressed this fall, make it seem like for the first time in NPFMC history that protection for trawler abused stocks has taken on some urgency. Is it too late?

Those of us concerned about the GOA and the future of our communities see these moves as hopeful of a new courage on the part of Alaska NPFMC members to take up the struggle to ensure a future to our fisheries. We owe them a hearty thanks, for this latest move. We need to let the Governor know his ADFG Commissioner is doing a good job and we need to retain him. We need to let gubernatorial candidates know the management of Alaska fisheries needs to get off the colonial model. We have a helluva a long way to go. Too many of the continuing trawler fisheries are pursued for the profits of their allowable bycatch (cod, sablefish) which the NPFMC has erroneously granted them as a boon for pursuing what can only be called trash fish. The allowable take of PSC halibut, crab, and salmon should be a crime, but the the NPFMC has kept a blind eye to that economy of waste. So there is plenty to do. That we allow our wonderful natural resources to be thrown away at minimal profits to outside interests and foreign owned processors for some balance of trade scheme is an outrage. Processor linkages give away our fisheries resources without extracting their real value and block Alaskans from ever owning their own waterfront.

Alaska should act as a state and not as a colony. She needs to look after her people and her long term sustainable economic health. Her small coastal communities are not poor step-pups to the big dog Anchorage, but the tributaries of her river of economic health. Exxon, BP, Shell, and their ilk are not friends of Alaska, anymore than they have been to Louisiana, though when they are rubbing your back and shoving money down your pants, it seems like it. Same goes with Pebble Mine, the trawl fleet, and the foreign owned (outsider owned) processors. When their bellies are full (and their appetites are enormous), all their sweet promises are forgotten. Statehood wasn't the end of the fight, it was only the beginning. Until Alaska acts like a state and manages her resources like a state, we will still be a territorial colony.

Keep yer flippers wet.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gaming Reminder: Sleight of Hand, Blinded Eye

For some of you in the know, this reminder is unnecessary, but we have to make it for the sake of honesty. Information concerning bycatch and especially PSC (Prohibited Species Catch) of halibut, crab, and king salmon is only a best guess by the agencies. They do not include in their equation of estimation a gaming factor, but the factor exists and for some candid observers here, suspicion is that the estimated PSC catch is at least twice and perhaps four times as high as is reported. This is widely believed to be the reason for declining catches of affected species.

Advocacy groups, like the Marine Fish Conservation Network, report that 30% of the Gulf of Alaska trawl effort is observed, but they don't count gaming. The MFCN is well meaning but terribly naive. In the simplest scenario, for instance, a trawler will pick up their observer in the evening of day one, make a tow before midnight, make another after midnight, return the observer to the dock and count those two tows as two days of their required coverage. Then they have four days to fish as dirty as they please, without further concern. Most trawler skippers will tell you that such tows are done expressly for the observer, not for fish. Those wastes of time and energy are the cost of doing their dirty business. They are careful to make those tows especially clean. These tows are then extrapolated by the agencies to show the bycatch. Obviously, from such data, they show very little about what is really going on. This is why the trawl industry and their hired PR folks work hard to keep anything like video or still pictures off the internet and certainly out of our hands. Trawler crews who take pictures on deck risk dismissal, black listing, physical threats, and destruction of their cameras. This is not news in the fishing fleet here, simply the way things are done.

Think about it. This is criminal behavior. When observations come to light, it is by mistake. When pictures show up on Tholepin, it is a piercing of the careful mask of propriety the trawler industry works so hard to maintain. That the Marine Stewardship Council certifies filthy flats as sustainable is an abrogation of the public trust. These are the games people play. (Joe South, 1969, The Games People Play, trawler theme song).

Keep yer flippers wet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Blogger: New Rule: Halibut PSC Analysis

"Let's say that the allowable halibut bycatch damage is overall 220 MT in the groundfish complex of rockfish and flatfish, two related serial killers of halibut. Now with only 12.5% coming out up front that is 27.5 MT savings put in the bank for halibut, not allowed as part of the trawl slaughter. That leaves 192.5 MT for prosecution of rockfish. Let's say they "use up" 92.5 MT of it (nearly 50%) to prosecute rockfish, that would leave a carry forward to the later flatfish season of 100MT. Under the 55% rule, 45% would be put in savings (not allowed for flats prosecution) so leaving 55MT which would likely get used up before flats would be shut down on that limit. With 27.5 and 45MT in the bank, that's 72.5MT out of the 220 originally, or an overall savings of around 33%, about one-third.

"That's why if it had gone the way the state and halibut fishermen wanted 25% taken out up front (the 75% rule instead of the new motion's 87.5% rule), so 55MT would be taken out first. Then say another 45% later, that is, if following 220 minus 55, equals 165, less let's say 90MT or so used for rockfish, leaving 75 MT times 45% or another 33.75MT dropped before flats are fished. The combination of 55 and 33.75 sums to 88.75, divided by the 220 original, is more like 40% halibut savings in the bank, instead of 33%. Or another way of looking at that is 88.75 less 72.5 is an additional savings of 16.25MT or 35,750 pounds, and if the small halibut in the bycatch were an average of 10 lbs, that would be 3,570 fish, which when grown to size of commercial fish in the longline halibut fishery at say 40 lbs. would be 143,000 lbs, which at $4.50 avg. would mean another $643,500 in the hands of halibut quota holders if all fished later.

"Point is that the savings are important and significant.

"Check my math."

Comment: But all this overly complex calculation reminds me of how some skippers pay when they lease or borrow for IFQ; baffle them with bullshit rather than just being truthful. Follow me here...rather than granting just enough halibut PSC bycatch needed for rockfish, the NPFMC gives them far more halibut PSC than they need so they can roll that over to filthy flatfish, because if they were to simply to give them a great pile of halibut PSC for flatfish, it would be unconscionable, too completely wrong. Then to cover their tracks (to baffle us with bullshit) they take some of the Rockfish Program halibut PSC back to show just how good they are about managing the resource. And we are supposed to feel very grateful, just like when you get a nickle back on your tax return. Wrong. The Council needs to make serious inroads into the halibut PSC allocation, not just couple of nickles. Wiglaf.

(Keep yer calculators dry.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rockfish Program Halibut Bycatch...Clear Concise Language?

If I didn't get that Rockfish Program halibut PSC exactly right, I blame it all on the clear and concise language of the NPFMC's staff. (I think they used to work for the IRS). The following is verbatum:

"7.3 Prohibited species (halibut mortality) Allowance to the rockfish cooperative program will be based on 75 percent of the historical average usage (during the qualifying years), calculated by dividing the total number of metric tons of halibut mortality in the CGOA rockfish target fisheries during the qualifying years by the the number of years, and multiplying by 0.75. The difference between the historical average usage and the allowance provided above will remain unavailable for use.

"The halibut PSC allowance will be divided between sectors based on the relative amount of qualifying target rockfish species catch in each sector.

"Option for supplementing the last seasonal halibut apportionment for trawl gear 75 percent of any allowance of halibut PSC that has not been utilized by November 15 or after the declaration to terminate fishing will be added to the last seasonal apportionment for trawl gear, during the current fishing year. The remaining portion of any allowance will remain unavailable for use."

If you figure out what this means in regard to 87.5%, 12.5%, and 55%, let me know. Is the 87.5% a replacement for the first 75% or the second? I know it is the Council's business but you'd think they'd let the public know what they are doing, or would they? Until then, I need to get this next set. These satellite charges are killing me, and I need some reds to pay for them.

Keep yer flippers wet.

Halibut PSC Report

This is important to the health of the halibut resource and might begin a process to roll back the 2000 metric tons of halibut waste in the Gulf of Alaska. Hey, it could happen. Be informed.

Here is the report:

Keep yer flippers wet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

HALIBUT! Rockfish Minority Reports-NPFMC Sitka June 2010

"Minority Report (Component 7.3): A seven member minority wanted a maximum rollover of 50% and a six member minority preferred a rollover of 30%. The Rockfish Program claims to reduce halibut bycatch and seafloor contact. The rockfish fishery has achieved these goals. However, if 100% rollover provision of unused halibut prohibited species was rolled over, it would undermine the fundamental intent of MSA (Magnuson Stevens Act) in reducing bycatch, thus something less than a 100% rollover is required. The minority believes that the majority choice of 75% is too high. Bottom trawl time and associated impacts to the habitat have significant impacts to the habitat around Kodiak Island in the fall. In order to provide some level of net benefit to the nation, a portion of halibut savings should truly be realised and left in the water. PSC allocations based on pre-program usage (should be the rule?) A 30% to 50% reduction fulfills commitments to reduce bycatch/halibut impacts while achieving program goals. Signed: Theresa Peterson, Jeff Farvour, Becca Robbins Gisclair, Chuck McCallum, Tim Evers, John Crowley."
"Component 16): A minority believes that a hard sunset for the entire rockfish pilot program is important. Both ten year and fifteen year sunsets were supported by the minority. The first line of the problem statement is: "The intent of this action is to retain the conservation, management, safety, and economic gains to the extent practicable..." and it is notable that the program has achieved the benefits of a rationalised fishery without giving away the 'property rights' of the fishery.

"The Rockfish Program began as a two year pilot program which was extended through an act of congress. In complying with the reauthorized MSA is has undergone fundamental changes such as no processor association. This program is part of a piece meal attempt to rationalize fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska in allocating a small rockfish fishery along with valuable secondary species. We have no idea what things will look like tens years down the line; especially with the number of Council agenda items addressing bycatch issues with crab, salmon, and halibut on the horizon. A program duration will create incentives to keep the program working so Council may choose to continue the program and the fleet will not have the expectation that the program will exist in perpetuity.

"All that is required for a limited access program to deliver the benefits of a rationalized program is that there be a meaningful quantifiable limit or a set quota on the amount of fishery resource that can be harvested. The public has zero incentive to design programs in such a way as to maximize the bottom line asset value of the resource quota. Quite the opposite, in fact, because the greater the value of the quota, the greater the negative impact on communities through higher barriers to entry into the fishery Limited program duration can serve to achieve the benefits of rationalization while delivering adequate business stability and trying to keep the barriers to new entrants lower than would otherwise be the case. Signed: Theresa Peterson, Becca Robbins Gisclair, Chuck McCallum."

Keep yer flippers wet.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer Time, Salmon Time

While there are things here on the horizon that could use a flogging, summer time means salmon time and the information resources that support this blog are out chasing fish. News is that observers will now be required on vessels under sixty feet and we will perhaps get some better data on the bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska. There will be few surprises, however, as selective gear types will for the most part still be selective and the less selective gear (read trawls) will remain less selective. It is tragic how we have to prove gravity over and over and the disbelievers keep calling it rumor. Planning sessions are being scheduled for the implimentation of more complete observer coverage. We all must engage in steering this process so that we get the truth about what goes on out there. The days of hiding huge takes of sealions by trawlers may be over. (Did you hear about the fin whale killed in the cod end? Didn't think so.) There are no more king crab so there are no more red bags (cod ends bulging with crushed Paralithodes camtschaticus). But decks covered in king salmon and or juvenile halibut and cod ends bulging with crushed tanner crab are still happening, and being unobserved, and like the oil escaping from the BP well, "if it don't surface, it just ain't there," right? And very like the BP spill, the unified command of NMFS, the NPFMC, ADF&G, and so on, just can't get off their support of "a blind eye for the big guy"...trawlers and, for the most part, foreign owned processing interests who continue to support the gaming of the observer program. Yes, the gaming of the data, of the testimony, of the unseen catches, of the missed observations, the skewed sampling, the skipper's sleight of hand, like BP's oil spill keeps the true magnitude of the damage out of sight and out of mind. What evidence?

Things can change for the better. Keep your cameras ready (and hidden) and we will get your eye on stage to make a difference. Get engaged with the restructuring of the observer program. They won't do this again for a very long time. Your involvement will help get it right. Okay, maybe not right, but a helluva lot better. It could happen.

If you haven't read this entire blog, may I suggest you do so? What is posted here is not spoiling, needs no refrigeration, and for the most part is not time sensitive. When you are done you will be much better informed about the hidden truths about trawling and bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska.

Until later. I have to go catch fish. A sealion has to eat too, right?

Keep yer flippers wet.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Flatfish trawlers cut bottom contact by 90%!"

Can you imagine anyone with even half a brain to make such a statement? Well, the Marine Stewardship Council did, making them almost too preposterous. It is like an absurd comedy. Except it is an outrage. This is an act of intentional deception and truly deserves a lawsuit. MSA has indeed certified filthy flats as a sustainable fishery. By such action they have helped destroy the validity of that very word...sustainable is now most officially a greenwash word, a salesman's pitch, a perversion of truth. It would be laughable if it didn't mean now there is a stronger market potentially for flats and that trawlers will continue to trash the resources around Kodiak with hard on the bottom flat fish trawling. Crab stocks, halibut, corals, and the general benthic habitat will suffer. Until overwhelming pressure by commercial fishermen, charter fishermen, sportfishermen, and the general public are brought to bear upon our representatives in government to call a halt, these destructive practices will continue. Write your letters, friends, speak your mind while we still have some healthy resources left in the Gulf of Alaska to worry about.

Keep yer flippers wet.