Sunday, April 11, 2010

Catching up with the council

Deckboss spent a good bit of time this weekend hanging around the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting through Tuesday here in Anchorage.

This is a meeting that lacks a really big, sexy headliner issue.

But lots of interesting currents are running through the council chamber, and even more through the corridors and bars of the downtown Hilton hotel, where the 11-member panel is encamped.

Here's a sampler:

• You know it's an election year when top politicians start showing up at the fish council. So it was no surprise to see Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell appear and give a little speech on Thursday. Naturally, after the speech came a fundraiser for Parnell, who is running for a new term.

• Jim Balsiger, Alaska chief for the National Marine Fisheries Service, announced it might be months longer before we see a new "biological opinion" on the status of the endangered Steller sea lion. This is a matter of considerable dread for Alaska's billion-dollar bottomfish industry, which very possibly could face painful new restrictions or even a shutdown if the agency determines commercial fishing is jeopardizing the sea lion's recovery or adversely modifying its habitat. Many industry players suspect internal conflict among NMFS scientists could explain the continual delays in rolling out this new BiOp.

• The island community of St. Paul, smack in the middle of the Bering Sea, is very worried about a pending change in crab management. You'll recall that, a few years ago, the king and snow crab fisheries were "rationalized" or divided into fishing, processing and regional shares. Under the rules, some of the crab must be delivered to northern ports including St. Paul, which heavily depends on landings taxes for its economic survival. Well, fishermen and processors want a change to allow crab to be delivered elsewhere in the event of an emergency, such as ice blocking the St. Paul harbor or a tsunami damaging the town's processing plants. St. Paul fears such an emergency exemption could be abused, however, draining the island of crab. Last I heard, a deal was in the works to compensate St. Paul somehow for lost crab landings, perhaps by requiring compensatory deliveries in future years.

• Maybe the hottest issue at this meeting concerns Gulf of Alaska rockfish. As with crab, rockfish was "rationalized," but only temporarily. The council now faces a universe of choices on how to manage the rockfish harvest after 2011. One option is awarding perhaps 20 percent of the catch rights directly to processors as "protection" for their historic investment in the fishery. This would be an unprecedented step in Alaska fisheries management, and a highly controversial one at that. So we can expect to see plenty of rockfish wrangling at future council meetings.

• Another hot topic is the proposed closure of some waters off Kodiak and Afognak islands to keep boats targeting bottomfish from accidentally catching, or mangling, bairdi Tanner crab. Supporters of the closures point the finger mainly at trawlers for this crab bycatch. Trawlers are saying, hey, we don't want to see vast areas closed without clear scientific justification. We've previously seen some pretty tough lobbying here. Remember those pictures of purported extreme crab bycatch from a few months ago? As with many issues before the council, final action on this one is still a long way off.

• Efforts to invent an excluder device to keep Chinook salmon out of pollock trawl nets apparently are coming along swimmingly. Researcher John Gauvin made a presentation on a "flapper-style" excluder to the council's Scientific and Statistical Committee. The committee wrote: "The concept for a salmon excluder has evolved over a number of years, and results of the most recent test appear to be the most promising to date." The excluder plays on salmon tendencies to allow them to exit the net through an escape hole, while most pollock stay inside. Gauvin said several vessels intend to use the excluder during next winter's pollock fishery.

• The council plans to hold its June 2011 meeting in a very unusual place: Nome! That's a big logistical challenge for the town, as a council meeting can attract hundreds of agency staffers and other people and bed space is limited. Folks in Nome believe they can handle the meeting like the Iditarod, which obviously brings scores of people to the shores of Norton Sound.

• And finally, from the rumor department, here's the very biggest buzz I heard at the council meeting (uh, in the bars) this weekend: Coastal Villages Region Fund and the company it partly owns, American Seafoods, possibly are going to divorce. This could involve part of American's mighty fleet of factory trawlers splitting off into a new company, knowledgeable and only slightly tipsy industry sources told me. Deckboss has not inquired of either Coastal Villages or American about this, so make of it what you will.


Anonymous said...

HEY WES, I just came from the council meeting room.....what's up with that "extreme bycatch of halibut" photo that is going around. It shows a large number of small halibut that are sitting on a trawler deck along with chinook salmon and crab legs and parts! That is just plain criminal!!!!! And the really messed up part is that it has been going on for years. The trawlers "dirty little secret" has been exposed!!!!

Anonymous said...

It's sad when an industry "insider" can't tell the difference between a rock sole and a small halibut.

Anonymous said...

Hey A-non #2...Looks like you weren't pewing fast enough before those pics were taken....Just goes to show you, that in this pic, the drag fleet can't control what they are targeting...If you don't know what the EFF you are doing...Especially putting gear Hard on the bottom, Stay off the EFFing Bottom...Same old B.S. attitude! "We can see something's down there, let's just go check it out"......This, wait and see attitude from the DRAG fleet/and NPFMC/and ADVISORS/ and Processors/ and Borroughs solely dependent on those tax revenues, is what is putting the rest of the fisheries, and future in PERIL!....Commercial Fishing CAN BE an infinite resource in Alaska, but only IF you filter out all the opportunitists for the BIG, QUICK BUCK. NOAA has not been Policing on an effective level, because trip wires have been in place with the control of TED Stevens the last 30 years. This privatizing of Public Resources is Bullshit. If I see any Transferable Quota holders/boat owners, on the beaches in the Tropics, you can bet I'm gonna kick their chairs right out from under their fat asses they have been sittin' on....

Anonymous said...

Why do afriggingnonymous posters even get printed

If u have the conviction to say something about a person or fishery or whatever- hiding behind anonymity eliminated all credibility



Notrawlzone said...

Smoke, mirrors and plenty of eye wool from the council again.

Anonymous said...

Which Boobyt is that? Oh ya, the illiterate one.

Anonymous said...

Of course trawlers individually have been fishing dirty for years.

That is precisely why you will never see a television camera on a trawler.

The public would have a cow.

Anyone know of a documentary which shows the actual bycatch.

Nope, we have to depend upon "observers" who are trapped on the Bering Sea, with everything necessary to keep them alive, provided by the parties they are regulating.

Does that sound like a good system.

Video cameras would eliminate this facade.

Anonymous said...

Bobby T talking about credibility?

What a hoot!

And demanding anonymous commenters to reveal themselves after threatening posters when last seen on Wes Loy's Highliner with retaliation?

You can tell that the State Legislature is winding down.

Hey Bobby, did the City of Kake ever pay for last year, or did they stiff you on the payment? Or are you going to count it as part of your "volunteer" work?

Anonymous said...

Wes showed up once or twice for a few minutes at the end of the day during the Council meeting. He chose some very interesting "sources" to speak with.

Anonymous said...

Word has it,since booby t's Icicle company can't find the pollock, and Wes's ratings are down...that they have gone into business together...since they aren't packing fish and good reading material...they have now formed a co-op...packing fudge....

Anonymous said...

a processor's favorite...Chocolate wrapped in Silver....

Anonymous said...

Maybe no tv cams but soon NMFS will have cameras on all vessels, for ALL gear types. Trawlers are looking forward to it, being the only gear type who are actually trying to improve our fishery and bycatch numbers.