Saturday, July 31, 2010

Guest Predicts "Halibut Stock Collapse in the Near Future"

"I am (name withheld). This is my history. After graduating in 1976, I worked on the Miller Freeman as a trawl gear specialist in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. In 1977, I worked as a fisheries biologist with ADF&G. I was one of the first domestic observers on Kodiak shore based trawlers, and I worked on one of the first draggers delivering food fish to shore plants. I was a deckhand on a Kodiak trawler for three years. There were very few draggers then and they were relatively small and towed modified shrimp nets. Even so I was appalled at the amount of halibut and crab we dragged up. One day as an observer we caught three thousand pounds of egged king crab females in a tow. I told my boss, Phil Rigby, about it and he said “Do not let this get out. We would not want to discourage the bottom fishing industry.” Ironically, the shrimp fleet dragged in the summer and sold pollock in the winter as bait to the crab boats. Well, soon the draggers were putting on public relations through the local newspaper reporter, Chris Blackburn. At the time I thought it was funny. But they ended up making Chris their chief lobbyist, their minister of information. Joint ventures brought more boats and more areas got dragged. There were more gear conflicts. Today those drag boats are much larger and cover more ground.

"Currently I am a commercial halibut fisherman. I bought into the IFQ program. I can hardly believe what I have seen in the last four years or so. First, the fall cod trawl disaster where millions of pounds of halibut were dragged up in the Marmot Gully. The fishing vessel Dusk had 70,000 pounds of halibut and the fishing vessel Peggy Jo had over 100,000 pounds of halibut bycatch. Then there’s the arrowtooth flounder fishery, where millions of tiny halibut are killed and spawning areas are dredged. This year, everywhere I go, I find draggers on the black cod edge. Draggers close by my gear; draggers in high concentrations of halibut with no observers. The price of black cod is so high it gives a powerful incentive to fish dirty. A friend has a picture of the dragger Walter N with deck load of black cod. They only could keep a small amount, after picking out the big black cod, they shoveled the rest over. And now in the past few years we have the super 58 foot autobaiter longline boats (no observers) trashing out the juvenile halibut.

"We have no real effective observer coverage. 30 percent? And that’s not 24 hours. The system is further manipulated by timing the tow before midnight and by the “observer tow” that’s recorded and later the dirty tow that’s not recorded. A lot of damage can be done in one day of unobserved trawling.

"What I see now is a serious decline in area 3A halibut and even more so in 3B. I would say stock collapse in the near future. Fifty years ago it was the foreign trawlers who were responsible for a huge decline in halibut, but now it is the domestic trawlers threatening our crab, salmon and halibut resources. Thousands of sport charter and commercial fishermen depend on halibut for a living. A fishery worth over $300 million in ex-vessel value this year soon to be trashed out as fodder for cheap flatfish. The IFQ program will surely collapse under the weight of loans not repaid.

"As one dragger crewman told my deckhand 'Why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?'"

Keep yer flippers wet.