How many AK legislators have commented on trawl bycatch? Three.

As “The State recommends no action to revise bycatch guidelines," three lawmakers demand change.

by | October 2, 2023

Two AK House members, One Senator

Seventy-one comments were made to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council regarding the Trawl Gear Performance Workshop on October 2 – at which trawlers will advise “on ways to revise the trawl gear performance standard.”  

Each and every comment criticized the NPFMC and NOAA Fisheries for failing to protect Alaska’s marine resources and ecosystems for decades.

Of 40 State House Representatives, how many weighed in?  Two – both Republicans.

There were 55 comments made to the NPFMC on chum bycatch and the need for a trawl chum cap. Every comment urged the Council to take action and impose a cap.

Of the 20 Alaska State Senators only one, a Democrat, commented.

Here is the comment from Rep. Sarah Vance of Homer, Chair of the House Fisheries Committee:

Here is the comment from Rep. Kevin McCabe of Big Lake:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Trawl Performance Standard and Enforcement agenda item for the upcoming October meetings in Anchorage.

My House District of South Central and interior Alaska is almost entirely focused on sport fishing. However, as member of the Alaska House Fisheries Committee as well as the House Resource Committee I regularly speak to all types of fisherman and industry people.

 During those numerous discussions and hearings I have come to believe that we have erred as regulators on both the state and the federal level. We have spent too much time focusing on the stake holders, and their revenue capablities and costs, and not enough time focused on the resource. As we all know, it takes fish escapement to the rivers, and up-river, to get fry downriver. A healthy and sustainable fishery is vital to Alaska economy, subsistance, and our native culture and way of life.

Alaska has been watching as the industry decimates our resource, one the greatest (and possibly last) non-farmed fishery in the world. The resource committee has heard all of the excuses and possible causes, from climate change to disease. But the one single thing, that we can control other than tonnage limits, is bycatch. We must take steps to be good stewards of our resource and change what we can to prevent the extinction of our fish; Alaskans universally agree, we must fix the bycatch issue.

The Enforcement Committee is tasked to “consult with industry to identify ways to revise the pelagic trawl gear performance standard to be enforceable” and for participants and stakeholders “to propose practicable and enforceable improvements to the existing trawl performance standards.” Who consults with the end user? Who consults with Native Alaskans whose way of life is about to be rendered moot as the fish continue to exponentially decline? Who is going to enforce any recommendations that you allow the industry to come up with? Where are the non-industry associated biologists and scientists? Who has talked to the average non-trawl fisherman or even former trawl crewmembers?

Alaskans want more than a program designed by, and of benefit to, one single stake-holder (the trawl industry). The NPFMC must step up and manage and regulate the industry for the maximum benefit, and sustainablity, of the resource.

The waste from the current bycatch program and limits should be a source of shame for the council. All Alaskans have seen pictures of dead Orcas and marine mammals, heard reports of the failure of the observer system, and noticed the appearance of undue influence of the trawl industry when fishing quotas are changed to accommodate bycatch limits. Closure of subsistence fishing, crabbing, salmon sport fishing on many rivers, all while the trawlers continue to waste bycatch is alarming the public.

I have heard comments from environmental groups who say that if trawling were done on land it would be the same as clear-cutting a forest and would never be allowed. Except in the case of logging, the loggers would be required to replant. Is the NPFMC going to require the trawl lobby to replace the bycatch that is killed and wasted every day?

In Alaska, there are penalties and enforcement for violations of state fisheries laws. What penalties are there for violations of federal fisheries regulations? Right now it seems like the wild wild west.

The Alaska constitution requires that the legislature manage our resources for sustained yield. Currently, with the nebulous and fluctuating bycatch rules and procedures, the NPFMC is in direct conflict with the legislature, the state of Alaska administration, and indeed the entire population of Alaska.

This resource is the lifeblood of our coastal communities and river-reliant villages and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of serious changes and judicious enforcement before the greatest fishery on earth is lost due to your negligence and delay.

Here is the comment from Senator Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks

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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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