A persistent trickle of misinformation about our region’s fisheries has recently become a flood. ADN carried the most recent example, an uninformed op-ed comparing many of Alaska’s world-renowned fisheries to “foreign pirate” fleets. This is reminiscent of a campaign launched by Greenpeace against trawl fisheries earlier in my career. Like that campaign, the implication now is that because these are large vessels targeting huge fisheries, they are inherently bad.
Nothing could be further from the truth. For more than 40 years, I have lived in coastal Alaska, in communities that depend upon fisheries for their survival. I now work with the catcher processor fleet that participates in the Bering Sea Alaska pollock fishery — the largest U.S. fishery, and the largest seafood fishery in the world.
Big is not bad. On the contrary, it is precisely because of this fishery’s size and scale that it is able to produce low-cost, low-carbon seafood that is helping feed the world. Unlike more expensive Alaska seafood, pollock feeds millions of ordinary Americans including those in need, through affordable retail and food-service offerings, and through the National School Lunch and food bank programs. It also serves consumers around the world, providing one of the most climate-friendly options of any widely-available protein. Its CO2 equivalent per kilogram of protein is 3.77 kg — compared to 12.5 kg for chicken, 20.83 kg for plant-based meat and 115.75 kg for beef. All food production has an environmental footprint; we are proud that ours is one of the most modest of any protein.
The insinuation that our fishery is destroying this region’s precious marine ecosystems is just plain wrong. Alaska pollock has been certified sustainable by independent certification bodies with some of the highest sustainability ratings of any fishery. All of our vessels carry two federal observers who measure everything that comes aboard. Everything we catch is documented and publicly shared. There is not a more accountable and transparent fishery on Earth. We are proud to participate in the North Pacific fisheries management process, which is investing heavily in climate science; is working to incorporate local and traditional knowledge into the management process; and is world-renowned for precautionary, ecosystem-based management.
Let me address the question of incidental catch. All fisheries encounter non-target species. Our fleet goes to great lengths to target pollock and avoid other marine life. As a result of these efforts, more than 98% of what our vessels catch is pollock. Since 2010, we have had chinook salmon caps that, if exceeded, would shut the fishery down. That cap is lowered when Western Alaska returns are low. We have developed innovative methods for reducing incidental catch of salmon, including underwater cameras, salmon lights and salmon excluders. We have reduced our incidental catch of chinook by 89% since 2010. Salmon encountered by our fleet are retained and sampled by federal scientists. As a result, we know that a majority of chum salmon we catch originate from hatcheries outside the United States. Given these facts, it is not surprising that the science clearly shows that incidental salmon catch by our fleet is not a cause of the devastating reductions in some salmon returns that we have seen this year.
Finally, the Western Alaska Community Development Quota, or CDQ, program inexorably links our fleet to coastal Alaska: CDQ groups partner with or own our companies, meaning that pollock provides much-needed revenues to these communities.
In short, our fishery is an incredible Alaska environmental, social and economic success story. I am proud to work with this fleet.
Stephanie Madsen has been involved in Alaska fisheries since arriving in Alaska more than 40 years ago. She is the executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association and has lived in the fishery dependent communities of Cordova, Kodiak, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and now Juneau, so she understands firsthand the importance of healthy, sustainable fisheries to thriving communities.
Having served six years on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, four of those as chairwoman, she was involved in establishing the Arctic Fishery Management Plan, the Aleutian Islands Fisheries Ecosystem Plan and designing catch share-type programs in several fisheries. Madsen continues to serve the Council as member of the Ecosystem Committee.
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