"Alaska strong" is the phrase that best describes Gov. Bill Walker's recent nominations of Theresa Peterson and Buck Laukitis to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, or NPFMC, which is composed of 11 voting members from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest states. Six of those members are nominated by Alaska's governor.
The Council is responsible for deliberating on management issues for any fisheries prosecuted more than 3 miles from shore. Commercially important species such as pollock, Pacific cod, Bering Sea crab, halibut, rockfish and black cod are among those at least partially managed by the Council, and harvests in these fisheries account for the majority of fish landed in Alaska.
Theresa Peterson is a fisherman, Kodiak resident and multi-term member of the NPFMC advisory panel, as well as a staff member for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Peterson has participated in a variety of fisheries, ranging from pot fishing to salmon, long-lining halibut and black cod, and even trawling. She and her husband own and operate a small commercial boat and setnet site in Kodiak. She has been a steadfast advocate for the small-boat fleet, which many believe constitutes the heart of Alaskan fishing communities. Whether she's testifying before the NPFMC, the Kodiak Fisheries Workgroup or the Alaska Board of Fish, Peterson's influence has been felt at every level of fisheries management in the state.
Her industry experience doesn't just come as a harvester. She has worked to establish a seafood supply chain within the state through Kodiak Jig Seafoods and Catch of the Season, both of which provide affordable access to fresh-caught local seafood for households and restaurants -- a surprisingly difficult task in an industry dominated by large, export-focused corporations.
Peterson looks to emphasize the future of fishing communities in her approach to fisheries management. She views a lack of access opportunities for future generations of fishermen, and difficulty diversifying a fishing portfolio for active fishermen, as problems that should be addressed more by the Council. Many recent management decisions have disadvantaged subsequent generations of fishermen from accessing fisheries, resulting in a consolidated fleet with few opportunities for economic mobility. She aims to avoid similar mistakes when addressing the Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch issue and hopes to incorporate measures into that management plan that will address the needs of the current trawl fleet while still maintaining the long-term health of the affected communities.
Buck Laukitis also stresses the importance of catering to the demands of the current fleet while also ensuring that the future of coastal communities is not sacrificed in the process. He also comes with a formidable pedigree for the job. He has spent nearly 20 years participating in fisheries management through NPFMC, the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the Board of Fish, in addition to his 12 years as president of the North Pacific Fishermen's Association.
As the owner of two vessels and a nearly year-round fishing business, Laukitis understands what fishermen need to keep their vessels working and profitable. His vessels participate in pot cod fisheries in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and the Western Gulf as well as the westward halibut grounds. He also seines for salmon in Prince William Sound with his boat the Stanley K, while his other boat, the Oracle, operates as a tender. The latter boat was custom-built in Oregon in order to grow his fishing operation -- yet he hasn't lost sight of the importance and difficulty of keeping it a family business. His daughters, known for their Salmon Sisters product line, fish with him regularly, and his son-in-law works as a deckhand and relief skipper in the winter pot cod season.
Laukitis believes that it's time to work on individual accountability for bycatch mortality. According to him, one of the first steps is developing an accurate and cost-effective means of harvest monitoring through both observer coverage and electronic monitoring. With that in mind, he believes Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch is one of the key issues currently facing the Council.
Peterson's and Laukitis' nominations still need to be ratified by the secretary of commerce in D.C., and they have already received vocal protests from the powerful and politically influential trawl fleet, which fears that its needs will be marginalized. However, both nominees have been adamant about ensuring that trawlers get the same fair treatment as all constituents in the council process. They also share the common goal of keeping fishing fleets and fishing communities healthy for generations to come.
Although Walker's nominations reflect an effort to form a unifying vote among the six Alaska members of the NPFMC, Washington and Oregon fishermen also stand to benefit if their appointments are ratified. The council manages the waters off Alaska's shores, but Pacific Northwest residents have the same rights as Alaskans when it comes to accessing these fisheries. Access to Alaska fisheries provides much-needed flexibility for Washington and Oregon vessels. If Peterson and Laukitis are ultimately elected to the council, then their efforts will likely ensure a healthy fishing industry for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest for generations to come by keeping fisheries accessible, sustainable and efficiently managed.
Darren Platt is a commercial fisherman. He lives in Kodiak.
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