Laine Welch: Industry and feds mull methods for cutting Gulf bycatch

Laine Welch

Fishing industry stakeholders and federal managers in June will begin crafting a plan to reduce accidental bycatch in trawl groundfish fisheries in the Gulf. It will include some form of catch-share plan. As the main delivery port for more than $100 million worth of pollock, cod, flats and other fishes, Kodiak is watching closely.

"You have multiple moving pieces and every time you move a piece, it impacts all other pieces on the board," explained Duncan Fields, a lifelong Kodiak fisherman and member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council charged with designing a plan.

In addition to reducing bycatch, the state wants the new plan to limit industry consolidation.

"It's understood that can have a very negative effect on community stability and employment opportunities in fishing, processing and all the support industries," said Nicole Kimball, the state's federal fisheries advisor. She said she is "constantly hearing" that the groundfish program needs better monitoring and reporting. The plan should also keep tabs on the social and economic effects of any management shift.

The Kodiak fishing community told Kimball that any new program should not include permanent groundfish giveaways. She said the council will explore limited duration and quota allocations, some never tried before, to achieve the goals.

"We are looking at the ability to ... reallocate (quotas) after some period of time based on a vessel's performance in ... reducing bycatch. No one has ever done this ... but everyone has talked about it. And so now we are going to take a serious look at it."

Catch-share programs are a preferred tool for federal fishery managers. (In Alaska, 80 percent of all seafood landings occur in federal waters, from three to 200 miles offshore.)

"These programs are all about trade-offs," Fields said.

Drift downsize?

Should Alaska's largest salmon fleet consider downsizing? That's the question posed to fishermen in an informal poll mailed to Bristol Bay's 1,800-plus driftnet permit holders.

"We are not promoting it," said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, but "we are wondering if it would be a good deployment of some of our time and effort -- to learn more about it and how it might apply to the specifics of our fishery ... and that is what we would embark upon if that is what our members encourage us to do." The association is run by the drift fishermen and funded with a 1 percent tax on their catches.

A permit buyback would retire 300 to 500 boats from the fishery. That would bring things closer in line with the "optimum number" determined nearly a decade ago by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. A commission report in 2004 concluded that 800 to 1,200 drift permits in Bristol Bay would "represent a reasonable balance of economic, conservation and fishery management concerns."

Waldrop said he expects results will trickle in over the next month or two.

"There's no deadline. This isn't a vote; it is just an expression of interest. No one is approving us moving into an advocacy position on this. We are simply looking into it and seeing how it might work in the Bay."

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Contact her at

Laine Welch