Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Story Behind Halibut Bycatch Pushback

Just why is the trawl fleet and its spokesmen being so intransigent about cutting a little shaving off their prohibited species bycatch of halibut?  The pushback against any cut is evident in the Kodiak Daily Mirror where Bob Krueger is grandstanding about just how badly any diminished allowance of waste of halibut will hurt Kodiak's economy.  Expect more emotional and heated testimony when the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council considers their options for final action on scaling back a tiny sliver of the PSC bycatch after over 23 years of resource abuse.  But why such pushback?

Is it because the future holds more scrutiny of the observer program, which both the AP and Council members have admitted is badly broken, and heavily gamed?  If income taxes were only examined 30% of the time and taxpayers knew (as the draggers do) exactly in which year tax returns were to be examined, would the IRS expect to find more cheating? 

At least seventy percent of the days at sea that draggers operate are not observed and reported. 

As draggers know, if the observer program tightens up, if the actual level of halibut PSC bycatch is observed, draggers are going to need every pound of halibut PSC bycatch they can get.  They will be clearly over the limit and their fishing time will be curtailed.  This is why they are afraid, and why there is so much pushback.  Go figure.  If thirty percent of dragger trips are observed, and they are reaching the halibut PSC bycatch limit, based upon projections of the cleaner fishing they arrange to be observed, the other seventy percent of the time is, according to reliable crew witnesses, very dirty indeed.  Halibut PSC bycatch can be five times worse than observer projections when draggers target arrowtooth, according to witnesses, who were dragger crew, and found themselves unable to turn a blind eye to the waste.

Can draggers fish cleaner?  Possibly.  Some skippers are clearly more skilled at clean towing.  On the other hand we all know the names of the skippers whose reputations for resource destruction are local legend.  And then there are those who sincerely just don't give a damn.  Because skippers are not usually the owners of these vessels, they are pushed to produce, damn the bycatch.  The owners say, "You do whatever it takes to bring that boat back full, or you will find yourself looking for another job!"  To solve this problem, each vessel should be apportioned a given amount of bycatch.  When a dragger reaches the limit, they are shut down.  But remember anytime there is a penalty for exceeding a limit, the rate of cheating goes up.  Again, this is why all the pushback.  Draggers know how badly they are hammering the halibut stocks, and they keep their secrets, because exposure would have economic consequences.  The stridency in their battle against fair controls of their waste is a measure of how badly they are abusing the resource and gaming the observer system. 

One way to find out if draggers can fish cleaner might be  to cap and trade the PSC bycatch.  The clean skippers can then sell their PSC underage to the dirty guys who need it to keep fishing.  This would give the Council an idea of how clean draggers can fish and then the Council can further tighten the controls to achieve sustainable fisheries.  Dirty operators would be forced out of the fishery by the competition.  If the Council cared...

But none of this will make a particle of difference as long as the cheating and gaming of observed tows runs rampant.  When greed pushes operators to fish without reliable oversight, we will have the cheating and gaming; the truths about PSC bycatch will continue to be passionately denied.

Will the Council have the courage to do the right thing?  It sounds like the NMFS is softsoaping the new observer program to give the draggers more opportunities to game the system, thereby disabling the new and improved observer system.  Much more scrutiny will be needed if we are not to witness a continuing degradation of the Gulf of Alaska.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Didya Know?

Pacific Seafoods has a lobbyist named Heather McCarty who is married to NOAA's own James Balsiger (Chair of the International Pacific Halibut Commission) who helps decide who gets on the IPHC.   One of the IPHC candidates runs the Kodiak branch of Pacific Seafoods which owns a Kodiak dragger.

Just saying.  Kind of nepotism, isn't it?  A conflict of interest?  Especially when draggers are hammering the hell out of the halibut resource?  Our fisheries management appears to be corrupt at the core.

See also:


Sitka Votes to Limit Halibut Bycatch

The city of Sitka has gone on record in support of efforts to reduce the amount of halibut wasted in Alaska’s trawl fisheries.

The Sitka assembly this week (Tue 5-22-12) unanimously approved asking the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to lower the cap on trawl bycatch when it meets in Kodiak in June.
The cap on bycatch for gulf trawlers has been in place since 1989. It’s just over five million pounds of halibut per year. W.

Bycatch is the unintentional harvest of another species in a commercial fishery. In this case, trawlers are dragging nets on the ocean bottom for species like pollock, and catching quite a few halibut along the way. Those halibut have to be discarded. W.

This presents a problem for the hook-and-line fishermen who make their living catching halibut. The trawl bycatch used to be a much smaller proportion of the overall amount of halibut caught by commercial fishermen.

According to Linda Behnken, with the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association, it’s not so small anymore.

“At this point, the number of halibut that are killed as bycatch on a coastwide basis is equal to the number of halibut that are taken in the directed fishery. The commercial longline fishery.”
Behnken was soliciting the support of the Sitka Assembly, who – though Sitka is home to a large longline fleet – has not often taken a position on federal management issues.

Halibut stocks have undergone steep declines over the last few years. Cuts to harvest levels in Southeast Alaska have been particularly painful.

“We’ve seen a 75-percent reduction in the commercial catch limits to allow the stocks to rebuild. There’s been a 34-reduction in the allocation to the charter fleet, also to take pressure off the stocks. We hear from sport and subsistence fishermen that they’re having difficulty meeting their needs. And over this same time period there’s been no reduction in this bycatch limit.”

Behnken served three terms on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, where she was no stranger to conflict with the trawl fisheries. She was a key player in banning trawlers from Southeast waters. She found plenty of support on the Sitka assembly.

“I don’t think you’re going to find any love lost between anyone in Sitka and the trawl fleet.”
Thor Christianson is an assembly member.

“Biomass fisheries are dirty. To me there’s not much difference between a floating monofilament gillnet and a trawler.”

Behnken told the assembly that it had been a long battle, but the Council was finally ready to consider cutting the halibut bycatch limit in the Gulf of Alaska by three possible amounts: 5-, 10-, or 15-percent.

Behnken said she thought the cuts should be much deeper, but the trawl fleet was pushing back, arguing that they had not been given the management tools to make significant reductions in bycatch, without harming their capacity to fish economically.

There are 47 trawlers in the gulf, many based in Kodiak. There are 1,400 longliners. The economic impact of the declines in halibut stocks and harvests has been widely felt in Southeast.
Again, Thor Christianson captured the mood of the assembly.

“Yeah. I strongly support this. And if there’s anything we can do to help push it below 15-percent – because I know the commercial catch has been cut a whole lot more than 15-percent.”

The assembly resolution, which was sponsored by Mim McConnell and Phyllis Hackett, urges the Council “to take meaningful action now by reducing Gulf of Alaska halibut bycatch by at least 15 percent.”

The vote went quickly, for a group that sometimes has trouble finding consensus.

“Mr. Esquiro – yes. Mayor Westover – yes. Mr. Reif – yes. Mr. Christianson – yes. Mr. Blake – yes. Mrs. Hackett – yes. Ms. McConnell – yes. Motion passes.”

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council will take up the issue at its meeting in Kodiak on June 6.
Let's rollback the biomass fisheries' bycatch of halibut.  Join us and get your letter in.  Letters may now be submitted by email.  See the next posting for details.

It should be noted that the Council generally ignores other governing bodeis' recommendations.  But this helps show just how widespread is the oppostion to trawler biomass fisheries.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Letters Critical

To the twenty-six followers of this blog and all the others of you out there who read this, I know, you're busy, and you don't want to write a letter.  But your personal letter could make a huge difference with the NPFMC in it's decision to roll back PSC bycatch of halibut for draggers and longliners in its June meeting here in Kodiak.  Go to for guidance in writing a personalized letter to the NPFMC to be received by May 29, 2012.  AMCC has prepared a good plan for you to follow.  For greenies, they are okay, after all.

Your letter can make a huge difference in this struggle for fair treatment for the resource.  If you won't do it, who will?  Certainly the opposition will have all their paid staff working overtime to win this one and they will be doing plenty of arm twisting. 


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Unconfirmed Reports and Confirmed Observations

Unconfirmed reports have it that the IPHC staff is about split on whether halibut fishing opportunities should be entirely shut down for at least three years to allow for recovery of the stocks. 

Confirmed observations from the fishing grounds are that halibut are indeed scarce, with returning longliners for the most part catching only a small fraction of their intended deliveries.

Dragger crews report lots of halibut PSC bycatch of small fish.  But the drag fleet can't be cut back, remember?  Now is the time to move the NPFMC off of center and get them to take action on halibut bycatch.  Two weeks left to get in written testimony.  We need you.


Friday, May 18, 2012

NPFMC Will Cut Halibut Bycatch by 7.5%

At least according to M., who is purported to be a major player in all this fisheries intrigue.  M. says the compromises are already worked out and all that needs to happen is the public theatre and the official vote.  The idea is that nobody will be happy but the Council will be seen as having done their job on a difficult issue.

But this is a rather jaded and cynical view.  It is a view that helps convince the public not to engage.  It promotes the disenfranchisement of the public.  It is a poisonous perspective that harms democracy.  Or is it Realpolitiks?

You can prove M. wrong by moving the Governor's representative and the majority of the Council to vote for at least a 15% rollback and save our halibut.

It is the least you can do.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Reduce the Waste of Our Alaska Halibut," Paul Seaton

"Senator Ted Stevens and I had a conversation over 15 years ago about why the federal government allowed some net-loss bottom trawl fisheries. He advised that we should “just shut them down” at the Management Council and that there was no federal requirement to keep such a fishery going if it destroyed more value for others in the crab and halibut fisheries than the value created by its targeted fishing. However, fish politics being what it is, this is the first real action for the Gulf of Alaska since that time. Although a 15 percent reduction doesn’t seem like much compared to Ted Stevens’ suggestion for a high bycatch fishery, after 15 years of waste it would be a start and would set the Management Council on the pathway of saving our halibut resource for real utilization by Alaskans."


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Write Parnell!

Alaska's Governor Sean Parnell has just taken a whipping on oil taxes.  Here is a perfect opportunity for him to win one on a state's rights issue.  Call or write his office and request he use his influence to roll back the allowable halibut PSC bycatch.  The drag fleet will argue it is good for processors and processor workers and good for Kodiak's and the the state's economy to allow continued business as usual.  The truth is that dragger waste mostly benefits interests outside of the state, such as foreign owned processors or outside owned processors and much of the drag fleet are actually from outside, etc.  While this is federally regulated issue, the Governor has great influence, should he choose to use it, in influencing the NPFMC, who are going to vote on this PSC limit.

Governor Sean Parnell could win one for all Alaskans (and himself) by supporting a rollback on the halibut PSC.  Call or write and tell him so.

Keep your flippers wet.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dirty Draggers-Round Up The Usual Suspects

With the June meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries management Council scheduled for Kodiak, the drag fleet has been busy killing off the halibut.  Foisting the argument that "we just can't do better on halibut bycatch" these trawlers continually hammer on the halibut stocks as they have, basically without controls for the past few decades.  It is no wonder halibut in is decline.

The Sea Mac's nearly 40% tow of halibut while targeting cod was reported as a result of one observed tow, so he will argue that that was an unlucky exception.  He had a total of seven observed tows, this one being particularly bad.  Unless the new observer program fixes the gaming, Sea Mac's dirty dragging and others will continue to hammer the halibut.

In the first season, Sea Mac and the usual suspects exceeded the already liberal Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) by 9% or 39 metric tons (85,800 pounds).  In the second season, they did even worse, with a 28% overage, or 85 metric tons (187,000 pounds).  So the drag fleet is on its way to hitting the cap of 2000 metric tons of halibut this year...4,400,000 pounds of halibut wasted.  "But we can't do better."  This argument is like 'I can't drive unless I'm drunk.'  It is bullshit.  Besides the other cleaner gear types could easily harvest and employ more fishermen harvesting cod, where so much of the bycatch occurs.  Just saying.  But the NPFMC has given that away already with the sector split.

Press the NPFMC here in Kodiak at the June meeting for a tougher policy on halibut (and other) bycatch .  At least 15%.

Keep yer flippers wet.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

One Pound of Bycatch Leads Up To Five Pounds of Lost Spawning Biomass

According to an article in Fishermen's News:

'Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association in Sitka, was among those attending the halibut workshop in Seattle.  Behnken said that the group concluded that bycatch has had a significant impact on the spawning biomass of halibut.  "It's a conservation concern with allocative implications," she said.  "The direct yield loss of a pound of bycatch taken in the trawl fleet is a pound to the commercial <longline> fleet, maybe a little bit more, and the impact to the female spawning biomass of one pound of bycatch ranges from two to five pounds of impact to the spawning biomass, depending on where the fish is taken and the size of the fish."'

That is frightening, but hardly news, as we have reported here before.  You can't keep killing the geese without affecting the numbers of golden eggs.

Julie Bonney, spokesman for the drag and processor interests had a different spin: The 'executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank at Kodiak, said there is so much unknown about the status of the halibut resource that a better plan would be a comprehensive five-year work plan to get a better understanding of the science surrounding the fishery.'

Typical Julie Bonney to obfuscate and delay any meaningful changes to the way the drag fleet scrapes up their low value / high volume fish at whatever the cost to the long term health of the Gulf of Alaska.  She is a superior excuse maker.  Whenever the Council is feeling hesitant or impotent, they hear her gilded words about five year plans and more and better studies, complete with such bureaucratic platitudes as "comprehensive" and "unknowns" and delay action again.  Unfortunately, they most often move on the side of caution, ding the small players and concede to corporate interests.  It is not information they lack, but the courage to look to the best interests of the whole Gulf of Alaska and control the drag fleet.  Time is over for excuses, we need action.

The Council has scheduled two days in Kodiak on this issue and this is a perfect opportunity to let the Council know how you feel about wasting the Gulf.  Come here and testify.

By the way, where the hell is our illustrious governor on this?  I have heard he is very impressed with Julie Bonney's line of bullshit.  Too bad for him and us.

Keep yer flippers wet.