Peltola Fish Bills to Restrict Bottom Trawling, Reduce Bycatch get praise from Alaskans, push back from Seattle trawlers

Acts would boost gear innovations, limit areas where trawl gear "scrapes the seafloor."

by | May 23, 2024

Pollock trawler’s Texas PR rep says the new rules “would harm America’s fishermen.”

Photo credit: Dave Waggenheim/YouTube

On May 22 AK Representative Mary Peltola introduced a pair of bills to restrict bottom trawling and reduce bycatch – the bipartisan Bycatch Reduction and Mitigation Act and the Bottom Trawl Clarity Act.

“Since coming to Congress, I’ve worked to make fish and fishing policy the issue of national importance it deserves to be,” said Rep. Peltola in announcing the bills. “I know fish, I know Alaska, and I know how to work with people in both parties to get stuff done.”

The Bycatch Reduction and Mitigation Act supports Alaskan fishermen working to reduce bycatch by:

  • Authorizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program (BREP) at $10 million for five years.
  • Establishing the Bycatch Mitigation Assistance Fund, to be administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and used to help fishermen and vessel owners purchase new gear or technology to reduce bycatch – such as camera systems, lights, and salmon excluders.

The Bottom Trawl Clarity Act limits bottom trawling in vulnerable ocean by:

  • Mandating each Fisheries Management Council that permits the use of any bottom trawl gear to define the terms “substantial” versus “limited” bottom contact.
  • Requiring the designation of Bottom Trawl Zones, limiting the areas where gear that scrapes the seafloor is allowed.

[Read more about bottom contact here: https://alaskafish.news/04/2022/trawlers-take-the-mid-out-of-mid-water/ ]

View full bill text HERE. Read a one pager on the legislation HERE. The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA). 

Push Back on “Trawl Clarity

The Bycatch Reduction and Mitigation Act received no opposition from the fishing industry, but the Bottom Trawl Clarity Act drew immediate backlash by the trawl sector.

The newly formed Alaska Pollock Fishery Alliance (AKPFA) (No website; only on Facebook and X) stated: “While we share Congresswoman Peltola’s strong interest in ocean habitat conservation and marine fisheries health, we are disappointed in her introduction of legislation that would harm America’s fishermen.” 

AKPFA was introduced in March by Dallas, Texas-based RCOMM Strategies which partners with a wide range of “brands” to “create programs and craft messages that have garnered trust, engagement and support.” Its client list includes ExxonMobil.

AKPFA noted that while climate change is challenging to all federal fisheries managers and regional councils, “the stakeholder-driven process of relying on scientific assessments and employing complex tradeoffs to reach solutions should be followed.” 

Peggy Parker at SeafoodNews.com provides this further analysis:

The Bottom Trawl Clarity Act would mandate that the regional management councils define the terms  “substantial” versus “limited” bottom contact, and require the designation of Bottom Trawl Zones. The zones would identify areas where any trawl gear that scrapes the seafloor is allowed. 

AKPFA said the Bottom Trawl Clarity Act “…imposes unworkable and burdensome new Federal mandates on regional decision-makers.

“This legislation would limit the flexibility to manage fisheries based on the best available science. It constrains scientists and managers through the creation of static area closures — even as shifts in marine biota distributions accelerate due to climate change, which in turn necessitate more dynamic approaches to time and area closures,” AKPFA said in its statement.

“The Bering Sea is an ecosystem, not a pollock factory, and it’s past time it be managed that way.”

tim troll, salmonstate

Alaskans grateful for proposed trawl protections

A broad mix of Alaska’s tribal, commercial, and recreational fishing businesses expressed gratitude for the “brave steps” Peltola is taking to address long-term fish management and equity issues, Parker wrote.

The Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Native Peoples Action, SalmonState, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, The Boat Company, Bear Trail Lodge, B&J Sporting Goods, and DeepStrike Sportfishing all applauded Rep. Peltola’s leadership. They committed to work with Congress to pass these bills into law. 

“Immediate action is imperative in order to turn the tide on dwindling numbers of Alaska’s most valuable and iconic fish species,” the tribal and fisheries coalition said in a statement.

“This legislation introduced by Representative Peltola represents her dedication to Alaskans in the fight for sustainable fishing practices,” said Gabriel Prout, President of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC) and 3rd generation Alaska commercial fisherman.

“Mitigating bycatch and preserving habitat in the ocean ecosystem is key to making sure fishermen, communities, and families have access to marine resources for future generations of Alaskans to come,” he added. 

 “In all the regulatory processes the decisions are being made based on economic value. Whereas, to the people who depend on them, salmon are considered invaluable,” explained Serena Fitka, Executive Director of the Yukon Drainage Fisheries Association. 

Fitka’s organization represents Alaskans who rely on Yukon River salmon at key state, federal and international management bodies to strengthen the long-term economic viability and sustainability of Yukon RIver communities. YRDFA is also a leading research organization aimed at conserving Yukon River wild salmon throughout their life cycles.

They have been concerned about Chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the pollock trawl industry, which uses pelagic trawls, defined loosely as mid-water and rarely touching the ocean floor. When recent research revealed that pelagic pollock trawls in the Bering Sea are on the sea floor up to 80% of the time, YRDFA and others have supported more clarity in trawl definitions to protect salmon from becoming bycatch. 

“Not only does salmon provide a nutritional value, but it is ingrained in our culture and livelihood. This far exceeds the Western economic value and needs to be placed at the forefront of the decision-making process when regulations are put in place. We thank Representative Peltola for making this a priority,” Fitka said.

“[Peltola’s] work to support gear innovation and to protect areas of Alaska’s waters from trawl impacts on ocean habitat and sensitive species is imperative to the survival of Alaska’s fisheries, like the iconic king crab,” added ABSC’s Prout.

“As scientists recently revealed, current fishing practices by the pelagic trawl fleet offers a distinction without a difference when it comes to comparing them to bottom trawlers. They are both fishing on the bottom, and both cover a massive footprint in Alaska’s offshore waters. This legislation is a step in the right direction to keep Alaska’s fisheries sustainable, to build resilience, and to help protect vulnerable habitats and species.”

“These bills Representative Peltola has introduced let Alaskans know that she is listening and responding to our concerns, and that she will work with fishermen and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to rebuild stocks, protect habitat, and safeguard our fishing communities. Alaska fishermen are fortunate to have Representative Peltola in our corner, working hard for the long-term,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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