Laine Welch: Federal plan in the works to reduce bycatch

FisheriesMarch 30, 2013 

Federal managers for Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries are crafting a plan that will reduce bycatch by trawlers, and will very likely result in catch shares. Now is the time for fishing residents to make sure the program protects their access to local resources and sustains their coastal communities.

Currently, the plan includes trawlers in the Central Gulf and both trawl and pot cod gear in the Western Gulf.

"Catch-share programs certainly can benefit the long term viability of the resource. . . . but only if they are designed right and the long-term health of the resource, the community and genuine bycatch reduction measures are built in up front," said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's advisory panel.

Peterson added that it is really tough to add in community protections after a privatization plan hits the water.

"We've all learned lessons from past programs, such as the rapid consolidation of ownership, reduced opportunities for crew and captains and shore support workers, the increased costs of entering into a fishery and the potential for absentee ownership and quota leasing," she said.

Using the same privatization model as with Alaska halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab will serve to shrink fishing communities that depend on groundfish, insisted Seth Macinko, a fisheries professor at the University of Rhode Island who has spent decades studying catch share programs around the world. At a recent meeting with Kodiak City and Borough officials, he stressed the importance of being involved from the beginning.

"A lot of this is being promoted via a 'privatize or perish' message, as if you don't have any other alternatives. I think that is wrong," Macinko said. "People are confusing a tool with an ideology, and the tool is simply pre-assigned catch. That is what makes the difference out on the water and you can do that in many ways. My message to you is that you have got a choice between actively designing your future versus saying it is too complicated, it makes my head hurt, and leaving it to others to decide."

The NPFMC will move forward with designing new management scenarios for the Gulf of Alaska in June. It will have huge ramifications for Kodiak, where most of the Gulf groundfish catches are landed.

Fishing fatalities

Commercial fishing still ranks as the nation's deadliest job -- nearly 35 times higher in 2011 than the rate for all U.S. workers. That's the latest from the Centers for Disease Control's weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.

For the decade through 2009, 504 U.S. fishermen died on the job. More than half died by drowning when their boat went down, and 30 percent from falling overboard. Another 10 percent were caused by injuries onboard, usually from entanglements in winches, used for winding ropes.

The Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery tops the most deadly list with 55 fatalities over the decade. The other most hazardous fisheries in the U.S. were the Atlantic scallop fishery with 44 fatalities; the Alaska salmon fishery with 39 fatalities; the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery with 26 fatalities; the Alaska cod fishery with 26 fatalities; the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery with 25 fatalities; and the Alaska sole fishery with 21 fatalities.

ComFish 2013

Alaska's longest running fisheries trade show and the 34th annual ComFish is set for April 11-13 in Kodiak. Find the lineup of exhibitors and presentations at

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact

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