Unalaska Bay was completely shut down to trawlers by state regulators last week after a long campaign by the Unalaska Native Fisheries Association, representing local small boats.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries approved UNFA's request last week while meeting in Anchorage, closing all waters of Unalaska Bay year-round to groundfish fishing with pelagic trawl gear, according to UNFA member and Unalaska resident Walter Tellman. The fish board voted 6-1 to close the bay to trawlers, he said.
The fish board's action was the third step in forcing trawlers out of the bay. In earlier actions, the board in 2010 closed the inner bay to trawlers, and then in 2013 seasonally closed the outer bay until Aug. 31, though allowing trawling from Sept. 1 until the end of the pollock B season.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which neither supported nor opposed UNFA's proposal, took a neutral stance. But in a surprise to UNFA, Tellman said, the Unalaska Fish and Game Advisory Committee in December voted against closing the entire bay, a reversal of an earlier position.
Tellman said representatives of UNFA, the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and the Aleut Corporation testified in support of the ban last week.
"The trawl fishery that operates in Unalaska Bay has displaced, and possibly removed due to bycatch, many subsistence resources that residents of Unalaska depend on," Thomas Mack, president of the Aleut Corporation, said in written comments. "Many subsistence users have had to leave their traditional hunting and fishing grounds to try and meet their subsistence needs. These new fishing and hunting grounds are farther away from their homes and out of the Bays safe waters. This has put an unjustifiable increased economic burden on those individuals to purchase more fuel because they have to travel farther and some have had to purchase larger safer boats."
Opposed, Tellman said, were officials of Icicle Seafoods, United Catcher Boats and trawler captains.
Brent Paine, the executive director of United Catcher Boats, declined to comment this week on the latest closure..
Paine had earlier disputed claims that trawlers' bycatch had significant impacts on the small boat fisheries.
Fish and Game provided a list of catches of various fish species in Unalaska Bay.
"Harvest of walleye pollock in Unalaska Bay over the past 10 years has ranged from 0.9 to 7.3 million pounds taken by an average of 8 vessels. During the most recent five years, harvest of pollock annually averaged 3.1 million pounds taken by an average of six vessels, with an average vessel size of 120 feet. Based on walleye pollock fish ticket records, during the past five years Pacific cod was estimated as the largest source of bycatch with an average of 55,822 pounds, followed by Atka mackerel with average annual bycatch of 2,165 pounds. The estimated average annual Pacific herring bycatch was 1,379 pounds. Estimated bycatch of Pacific halibut averaged 1,484 pounds annually. Estimated bycatch of Pacific salmon was 2,343 pounds, made up almost entirely of chum and king salmon. Estimated bycatch of sockeye, pink, and coho salmon was minimal, estimated annually about 50 pounds. The majority of Pacific cod and Atka mackerel was sold, while Pacific salmon, halibut and herring were primarily discarded at the dock with a small amount processed for donation," according to Fish and Game.
This story first appeared in the Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.