Fishermen, their families, coastal communities, and consumers rely on a transparent decision-making process to sustain the resources on which they depend —and to provide equitable access to the public’s fish. When the Council sets catch limits, quota shares, harvest allocations, timing of fishing openings, or conservation measures, they act in open public meetings. Some of the people most affected are often watching from a few feet away. Do managers consider social and economic needs? You bet they do.
Total seafood harvest in Alaska in 2014 was 5.7 billion pounds which was 60% of the volume of seafood produced domestically and 67.5% of the domestic groundfish production.
The Alaska processing sector - which consists of 176 shore-based plants, 73 catcher-processors, and 12 floating processors – contributed $2.3 billion in added value that year.
The creation of America’s 200-mile EEZ—a boon for fishermen and coastal communities—spurred one unfortunate consequence: The race for opportunity at sea drove vessel owners to overbuild. By the 1990s many fleets were too crowded to thrive. There are no painless solutions when the adage comes true: “Too many boats chasing too few fish.” The North Pacific’s catch share programs emerged from this crucible. All required years of careful –and very public—balancing of socio-economic and ecological needs. Do they deliver?
In many ways yes, though caveats come with the terrain. Dividing the allowable harvest into individual or cooperative shares ends the “race for fish.” This has yielded real-world benefits for fishermen and communities in the North Pacific. In halibut and sablefish, Bering Sea pollock, crab and non-pollock groundfish, Gulf of Alaska rockfish, catch shares have delivered:
NOAA and Council reports on North Pacific catch share programs:
Until 2005, Bering Sea crab tragically earned its reputation as the Deadliest Catch. Much has changed. Under the new quota program, fatalities dropped by 87.5%, averaging just one per year during 2005-2013. Tighter safety rules and training contributed to this improvement, but slowing the race for fish dialed back much of the risk that was once routine. Waiting out dangerous storms? Keeping crews well fed and rested? Safety drills? Drug testing? These are standard practice now.
The Council first proposed reserving a portion of allowable harvests for Western Alaska coastal communities back in 1991. Today Community Development Quotas (CDQ) groups are a rising power in the North Pacific. No longer just leasing out their quota, they own a large share of Alaska’s seafood industry.
NOAA and Council reports on North Pacific catch share programs:References : Western Alaska Community Development Association
In Alaska’s Bering Sea crab and halibut and sablefish fisheries, low-interest loan programs help new fishermen buy quota. Individuals typically must be crew members buying small amounts of quota to qualify. New entrants to the fishery may borrow up to 80% of the cost of the quota; to qualify, an individual’s total quota ownership must be below a limit. The loan programs have been successful in helping new entrants and those who own small amounts of quota acquire more viable quantities of quota.
In the halibut and sablefish fisheries, eligible community entities are able to purchase quota to be fished in the coastal community by residents. While the program has not been used to a great extent, it remains in place to help communities get into the longline business.
Paddy O’Donnell, owner of the trawler F/V Caravelle in Kodiak, is one proud contributor to food banks. By allowing fishermen to donate fish that otherwise must be discarded under bycatch regulations, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council unleashed a new supply of seafood for the hungry. Fishermen and processors were happy to end the once-mandatory waste of food-grade fish. SeaShare, the industry-sponsored nonprofit that pioneered this approach, reports that participants have donated more than 200 million seafood servings to foodbanks.
One of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council policy priorities has been to reach out to remote Alaskan regions and Alaska Native entities, encouraging their participation in fishery management decisions that may affect their communities. The Council developed a rural outreach committee and has annually budgeted funds for meetings and travel to remote regions to discuss issues such as management of salmon bycatch. Comprehensive outreach efforts for rural Alaska communities have included statewide teleconferences and participation in a series of meetings with fishery and resource management groups in Western Alaska.
Early in his administration President Obama issued Executive Order 13175 which reaffirmed the importance of tribal consultations as part of all decision making by federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service. In recent years both the Council and NMFS have travelled to rural Alaska communities, especially in the Arctic, Yukon and Kuskokwim regions. The effort seems to have paid off based on increased written comments and oral public testimony to the Council by stakeholders from those regions.