A profile from 2021
Below is one of the final Fish Factor columns I wrote on December 17, 2021 shortly before I retired in 2022. It’s a profile on David Bayes and the STOP Alaska Trawler Bycatch outreach on Facebook. It appeared in nearly 20 print outlets, including three nationals; and the radio version ran on 30 Alaska stations.
Today, the STOP site is on its way to 28,000 members.
Hear the audio on Alaska Fish Radio here: One man brings bycatch understanding to the surface for Alaskans
Fish profile – Bycatch will continue to dominate headlines as more Alaskans and lawmakers engage like never before. The increased awareness can be credited in great part to one man from Homer.
“If we don’t step up and keep an eye out for it now, who will? It seemed like all the Alaskan resources were infinite for so long, but now we’re coming up to where fisheries are being shut down. It’s either step up or step out of the way,” said David Bayes, longtime owner/operator of Deep Strike Sportfishing Charters. It was the waste and habitat damage by trawlers that made him step up.
Bayes has used social media to educate more Alaskans via a Facebook page called “STOP Alaskan Trawler Bycatch” founded a year ago by Jody Mason of Whittier who calls Bayes “an encylopedia.”
“David Bayes has helped pivot the bycatch discussion from one of behind closed doors and buried information to mainstream Facebook posts and dinner table conversations,” said Maddie Lightsey of Alaska Boats and Permits in her weekly Fish Ticket report.
In 2020, the trawl sector in Alaska took 92 million pounds of various species as bycatch, according to NOAA Fisheries data.
Bayes uses NOAA fishery managers’ numbers on bycatch and fishing overages to make his points.
“Every week they update and you can click and see what the new info is,” he said. “But I don’t think a lot of people have done that. Because once we started to post those numbers, we’d run into trawl captains and crews and people affiliated with the NPFMC that would say I was crazy. Those numbers are too huge. And then you show them and say, well, those are your numbers.”
Bayes also has exposed how catch overage numbers are juggled and often don’t add up.
“In the Bering Sea, for one example, a catcher processor trawl fleet was about five million pounds over its Pacific cod quota. You can see this progression through the year that these guys are past their cap but they adjust the quotas. And then a few weeks ago, NOAA reallocated and simply erased that overage on paper,” he explained.
It was Bayes who pointed out this fall that Bering Sea trawlers are allowed more crab as bycatch than the crab fleet can take, even in the red king crab fishery that is closed for the first time in 25 years.
“It’s gotten again and again to where the North Pacific Council system has said, Okay, we’re going to shut directed fisheries but the trawlers can’t help it because of the gear type and they must have this quota,” he said. “That does so much to prevent the stocks from ever bouncing back. They’ve shut off directed fisheries, but the trawl fleet keeps hammering it a little bit at a time and the small local boats just sit there and twiddle their thumbs and wait.”
The STOP platform has its critics.
Heather Mann, director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative of Oregon, said the site “happily hosted bomb threats to individual decision makers, fishermen using gear they didn’t like and more misinformation about a very difficult topic than we’ve ever seen.” She added the platform “actively hosted and encouraged hate for fisheries, groups and individuals. It is the antithesis of civilized discourse.”
Dennis Moran is president of Fishermen’s Finest, the bottom trawl fleet that starting in 2023 will be required for the first time to reduce its take of millions of pounds of halibut bycatch.
Moran added: “The Facebook page has had multiple posts calling for violence against trawl vessels. If you speak up on the page to share the truth and provide sources to accurate information, you are blocked. What Bayes posts is either purposely taken out of context or flat-out misinformation and rhetoric. They allow personal attacks on Council members and others. Let’s have a real discussion about incidental catch and the fact that incidental catch occurs in every fishery and every gear type.”
Those critics are all wet, believes state Representative Kevin McCabe of Big Lake who calls Bayes “an honest broker.”
“He takes pains to post links to his data and has often provided amplifying information,” McCabe said. “The discussion gets more complicated by the players and power brokers who seem intent on discrediting any information or purveyor of information that does not fit the narrative they are trying to sell. I find that ‘following the money’ is the best avenue to determine the veracity of claims. When a fleet feels like they can waste $8.00 per pound halibut for other fish that is worth a few cents, it demonstrates the level of money involved.”
AK Representative Kevin McCabe (R) of Big Lake
McCabe added: “They come to Alaska for what are essentially Alaskan fish, they sue us to not have to pay the very small landing tax required, and then throw away five times more fish than we are allowed to keep in the state fisheries? And the regulators seem to be in collusion by hiding the true data and parsing it out to the public in differing metrics. Half of the management council has ties to the trawl fleet that would make their participation on a State board a violation of the State ethics laws. This level of anger from Alaskans is not going to go away just because 20 boats homeported in Seattle want it to.”
David Bayes said he knows the trawl sector is not “going away” but believes it’s time to “tap the breaks.’ Stakeholders need to come up with better fishing solutions as other states and countries have done, he said, before it’s too late.
Rep. McCabe, who said he also is driven by “the total waste of the resource,” added: “I can and will work with anyone to solve problems. But the first step in resolving any problem is recognizing there is one. I am not sure that the trawl fleet thinks there is a problem.”