Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So who besides sea lions eats Atka mackerel?

Deckboss spent a couple of hours yesterday hanging around the North Pacific Fishery Management Council proceedings in downtown Anchorage.

Here are a few scribbles from my notebook:

• The fishing industry rolled out an alternative to the suite of proposed Aleutian Islands closures the National Marine Fisheries Service says is necessary to protect endangered Steller sea lions. The industry aims to scale back the closures, and is hoping NMFS will go along. For example, in management area 543 way out at the western end of the Aleutian chain, the industry proposal would allow some commercial harvest of cod and Atka mackerel, whereas the government would simply shut down those fisheries.

• You might ask, what is an Atka mackerel? Most likely, you haven't seen it on a restaurant menu unless you dine in Japan, where basically all of the Alaska catch is exported. As you can see from the picture, the Atka mackerel is quite colorful. A handful of bottom trawlers catch the fish, generally available only along the Aleutian chain, which happens to include an island called Atka. One trawler told me this is how Atka mackerel is prepared in Japan: They're split, dried, salted, broiled and then served as an entrĂ©e. The fish is low value, worth only pennies a pound to harvesters, with a rather gray and fishy flesh the Japanese palate enjoys. Of course, sea lions like Atka mackerel, too, which is why the government wants to curtail mackerel fishing in hopes this might help stem the Steller decline in the western Aleutians. A representative of the Atka mackerel fleet says the sea lion closures would chop each boat's gross revenue by 20 percent.

• The fishing restrictions have one famous Seattle-based seafood purveyor, Ivar's, seriously worried. In a letter to the council, Ivar's President Bob Donegan says diners will suffer if one of his major fish suppliers, a factory trawler named the Katie Ann, is no longer able to catch the large western Aleutian cod the restaurant chain prefers.

• Don't look for the council to make any grand statement at this meeting about whether it agrees or disagrees with the restrictions NMFS is proposing. Rather, the council is likely to respectfully ask NMFS to make some changes to help the industry, which says some boats could go out of business due to the closures. NMFS is scheduled to present its final set of sea lion restrictions in October after considering council and public input.

• A really big fish from the political world, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, is scheduled to make a campaign, uh, policy appearance before the council at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Sorry, Deckboss couldn't resist a little quip there, as he just hates elections. Anyway, the Alaska Republican is expected to deliver a rather important point: That the federal government seems to be rushing the sea lion restrictions into place. It was only on Aug. 2 that NMFS unveiled its intense, 836-page "biological opinion" of the impacts of commercial fishing on the Stellers, and the agency seems intent on implementing the closures early next year.

• Of course, council action will be suspended this afternoon so people can attend the memorial service for Sen. Ted Stevens.


Linduh said...

The Atka mackerel is described perfectly on how the Japanese or other Asian cultures eat them. I've tried it. Once. When you look at them, they appear to have been dried and salted. Then it's cooked by steaming or frying. Very, very salty and oily. Very pungent odor. Tastes great, but best to cook outdoors if possible. :-)

Anonymous said...

Some fish are not meant to be eaten according to what the Bible says and I think this one including the pollock are one of them. Since when since time began did we as people around the world depended on very deep sea and ocean dwellers to eat? We can only eat those that are already provided for us like SALMON and those that are locally harvested.

Anonymous said...

Only the federal government could screw the Alaskans like this...

In the executive summary to the massive document it clearly states the science shows "There is no significant negative relationship between Western Steller Sea Lion trends in abundance and commercial fisheries since 1990." So what are they proposing. Closing the fishery.


You can love or hate the commercial fishing sector but EVERYONE should be concerned that this is the type of mandate from the current administration that is trying to bypass public input to put into place their agenda without consulting the taxpayers who are the ones getting hammered. What's next?

Anonymous said...

Stop trawling dammit!!! It's not the halibut or salmon guys its the fricken trawlers causing the dammed destruction and closure of fisheries not to mention the regulations that affect us all!!!! ITS THE DAMMED TRAWL FLEET!!! GET OUT OF ALASKA ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!!

Anonymous said...

It's always someone elses fault, with you people. Sit down, shut up, grow up, and learn. We have quotas, we have 100 Per cent observor coverage, stop the madness. Everytime something doesn't match with the way they think, the restrictions are increased, and the noose is once again tightened. Stop with the reactionary B.S. and take a breath.

Ken & Lauren said...

Not to nitpick but Mackerel fetches a pretty good price for harvesters @ about $1/pound.
The closures will significantly hurt the industry, and while that is not the only piece of the puzzle it is a rather large one. This whole thing really deserves a little more study and some solid scientific data, linking fishing to a decline in Sea Lion populations before the areas are closed for good. I hope NMFS plans to continue study and re-assess the the effects of fishing after they have shut the industry down out west.