OPINION: Poorly managed fishery bycatch is an Alaska tragedy

During my visits with communities throughout Alaska a number of concerns are discussed. One major concern common to many communities is the effect of lax commercial fishing bycatch rules that have gone unaddressed by our current administration.

Before going further, let me tell you the truth about that cute term, “bycatch.”

Around the world, it is called what it is: discarded and killed fish. “Bycatch” is a NOAA-created feel-good phrase embraced by the Alaska administration to make it sound like its no big deal — politicians playing games with words.

The effect of poorly managed and loose regulations regarding fishing “bycatch” has ramifications around the whole state of Alaska: from the sport fisherman hoping to catch that prized king salmon, to the halibut fisherman simply trying to bring home a tasty meal, to the commercial salmon boat trying to earn a living, to the commercial crabber bringing up an empty pot and to the commercial halibut boat trying to harvest one of Alaska’s food resources.

Alaskan fishermen from Nome to Bristol Bay, to the Cook Inlet to Kodiak, to Cordova to Ketchikan, to the Yukon-Kuskowim river subsistence and all coastal communities suffer the effects of “bycatch” policy failures.

What do they all have in common? Simply put, catcher vessels and factory trawlers disposing of Alaska’s natural resource, our seafood. Why? Because of old and lax laws regarding the “unintended bycatch” and killing of a treasured resource, our Alaska fish.

As your governor, I will stand behind our sport, subsistence and directed commercial fisheries (species specific fishing) and the Alaska businesses they support. My administration will use all state resources available, legal and regulatory to stop this travesty and anti-Alaska fishing bycatch industry.

Did you know? Halibut reproduce when they grow to around 8 pounds, yet the bottom trawlers kill and discard them at about 5 pounds. Killing the babies before they can reproduce is tantamount to genocide of the halibut fish species. All sanctioned by the current state administration and done in the name of increasing the financial bottom line of the mostly Seattle-based industrial trawl fleet.

Yes, the current administration has started a “committee” to review this problem. Do you know what the most used words in the committee are?

Likely words such as “should,” “underway,” “exploring,” “evaluate,” “monitor,” “continue to explore” and “discuss.”

We need less of that and more of “do”, “now” or just plain “fix it.”

There are ways to stop the destruction of the Alaska fishing industry: sound management and a governor who cares. A Pierce administration will not accept rhetoric, I will demand results.

So who are those holding back and destroying our precious resource? The Alaskan public? No.

Politicians receiving money to turn a blind eye? Yes, and yes, mostly out-of-state companies with offshore trawler processing vessels, provide that money while they prioritize short-term profit over protecting our fishing resource.

What can we do immediately?

A Pierce administration will require the use of electronic surveillance monitoring on a 24/7 basis. A Pierce administration will impose taxes on out-of-state operations equal to the full value of the “bycatch” of all species and use that to support Alaska-based fishery enterprises.

A Pierce administration will work with Congress and for a nine-mile state water limit with no bottom trawling. A Pierce administration will create a stepped-down approach which reduces bycatch year to year; until bycatch reaches a level which allows Alaskans to once again enjoy full and historical sport, subsistence and directed commercial fisheries limits.

Plus, we will deploy other methods available, on a priority basis using today’s data and action now.

These actions, with the appointment of individuals to the NPFMC who understand their one and only job is “Alaskans First” will make a difference.

Ask your politicians, ask the candidates, ask the governor: Have you taken money from mostly out-of-state seafood processor groups? What have you done to help Alaska? Not words, but results.

Charlie Pierce has not and will not accept the tainted donations from parties that seek to destroy our Alaska fishing resource.

I will work to reduce trawl “bycatch” and save Alaska’s sport and commercial industries. My administration will not talk about saving Alaska’s fish resources, we will take action to protect Alaska.

Results, not rhetoric, will put Alaskans first and restore our right to fish the waters of Alaska without the destructive interference of outside “predators” while retaining the integrity and livelihood of our fishing fleets and their on-deck workers.

You can count on me, Charlie Pierce, and my administration as governor, to put Alaskans first.

Charlie Pierce is the mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and a Republican candidate for governor.

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