The local small boat fishermen’s proposal to ban pollock trawling inside Unalaska Bay in Alaska's Aleutian Islands is being condemned by the trawlers’ industry association.
“They don’t have any evidence that trawling for pollock is having a negative impact” on subsistence fishing for salmon, halibut and crab, said Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, reacting to the Unalaska Native Fisherman’s Association’s proposal to the Alaska Board of Fisheries’ February meeting, and which is now under consideration by the Unalaska/Dutch Harbor Fish and Game Advisory Committee.
According to the UNFA statement in its proposal to close the bay to trawling south of a line between Cape Kalekta and Cape Cheerful, “the huge trawl nets that are used to prosecute the fishery are putting excessive pressure on a sensitive area already fully utilized by local fishers and hunters.”
The fish board considered the issue at a previous meeting, and closed half the bay, which local closure supporters viewed as a partial victory, while Paine called it a “compromise.” The bay opened to pollock trawling on Aug. 1.
“We drew a line through the middle of the bay,” and also agreed not to trawl in June and July, said Paine, adding that the bay pollock fishery provides some of the cleanest fishing in terms of salmon bycatch.
“We don’t catch any salmon there,” he said.
Paine said that Unalaska Bay pollock fishing is done primarily by Icicle Seafoods boats for processing into fillets at its Northern Victory floating processor in Beaver Inlet. The high-quality pollock caught in the local waters has a very good size for fillet production at the Icicle floater, Paine said.
The pollock catcher vessel fleet gives Unalaska a “phenomenal amount of revenues” both in fish and sales taxes, grocery and fuel purchases, and support sector jobs, Paine said from Seattle. Banning bay trawling would send a message to boat owners that “you’re really not welcome here,” he said.
The UNFA statement said trawlers have harvested an average of 4.2 million pounds of pollock in each of the last 10 years in Unalaska Bay. Paine said trawlers have been targeting bay pollock since the late 1960s, in the joint venture days, before the construction of local onshore seafood processing plants. The local advisory committee discussed the issue in a work session last weekend, but took no action pending another meeting, probably in mid-September, according to chairman Frank Kelty.
Advisory committee member Donald Graves supported a full closure, saying “this is the wisest thing we could do,” and complained of gear conflicts such as lost subsistence crab pots, though he noted there was no proof that the trawlers were moving the pots.
Graves said his seafood processor employer, Unisea, is not involved with trawling for pollock in the bay. Paine called the proposal a “closure for closure’s sake,” driven by people who don’t like to see trawlers catching pollock near their small boat activity. In other business at the meeting at the public library, the committee filled one vacant position, with the appointment of Jennifer Shockley. Another vacancy opened up at the end of the meeting, when Graves resigned, saying he’s moving to Anchorage after about 24 years in Unalaska.
In two issues regarding Togiak herring, and without taking any action, committee members liked one more than the other. They disliked the Togiak Traditional Council’s proposal to shutdown the herring sac roe fishery through 2016. The tribal group complained of a lack of participation by local residents and reduced opportunity for subsistence herring roe on kelp, claiming an overharvest of herring.
The Dutch Harbor food and bait herring fishery is based on a percentage of the Togiak herring biomass, and committee members liked a proposal by Daniel Veerhusens to reallocate unharvested herring from Togiak to Dutch Harbor.
In a sport fishing issue, a proposal to limit the local take of silver salmon to just one per day was also discussed, with no action taken.
This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman.