Battle Over Cod Allocations to Fishermen’s Finest Comes to Unalaska City Council
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by John Sackton – February 26, 2018
The North Pacific Seafood Industry is now engaged in a full scale inshore vs. offshore battle over access to Pacific Cod.
Although the second most valuable groundfish after pollock, a large portion of the Bering Sea Cod is an open “race for fish” fishery. Although pollock vessels are limited by sideboards, and the Amendment 80 vessels each have cod quota allocations, the catch of cod by catcher vessel trawlers, catcher vessel pot and longline, and jig fisheries are all unrationalized.
This means that all licensed vessels fish as hard as they can until the quota is caught.
In a stable fishery, both cod longliners and shore plants generally know how much cod they will catch due to past history and experience, and they adjust expectations based on the quota.
However, in 2017, the share of cod delivered to motherships offshore jumped from 3.3% to 12.7%. Part of this was due to a one-time situation where a closed shoreplant directed its vessels to sell to a mothership. But two of the three motherships increasing deliveries of cod at sea belonged to Fishermen’s Finest.
“ This is a meaningful shift. At this point it is open-ended, and there is nothing to prevent future growth in this activity,” Nicole Kimball of PSPS testified at the council’s December meeting in Anchorage.
The Groundfish Forum, an association representing Amendment 80 vessels, is not taking an official position, as its members are split on the allocation issues.
The council passed a motion for a control date of Dec 31st, 2017, for a future management action that might limit the ability of Amendment 80 vessels who had caught their own quotas to act as motherships and purchase additional cod from catcher vessels.
However the council process may take years, and during this time the shore plants are not willing to see changes to the status-quo through continued increases in mothership purchases.
Into this fraught situation comes America’s Finest, the new vessel built by Fishermen’s Finest at the Dakota Creek Shipyard. That vessel failed to get a coast guard certificate due to the use of an impermissible amount of foreign steel. As a result, the only way it can fish is with a specific congressional waiver.
The PSPA has jumped on the waiver, asking that before they would support congressional action, stand-still provisions must be put in place that would require Fishermen’s Finest not to increase their share of the cod fishery while the council is working out its final action.
If the controversy over halibut involving both recreational allocations and bycatch is any guide, that could take years.
In January, Frank Kelty, Mayor of Unalaska, wrote to the Alaska congressional delegation in strong support of the idea that sideboards (restrictions on certain fisheries) be part of any Jones Act Waiver for America’s Finest.
“The granting of the wavier to Fishermen’s Finest for their newest catcher processing vessel would allow the company to use some combination of its three vessels as motherships on the Bering Sea fishing grounds after harvesting their own Amendment 80 quota. This is certainly going to make an already bad situation much worse. Alaska’s fishery dependent communities depend on catcher vessel deliveries to shore based plants; they are the economic engine for Unalaska and other fishery dependent communities across this state. I believe you will be hearing from many communities that share Unalaska’s concerns.”
It is increasingly apparent that congressional action will only occur when there is a united industry position. In support of that, a delegation from Dakota Creek Shipyard and Fishermen’s Finest visited Unalaska earlier this month, to try and persuade the city council to modify or rescind the letter sent by Kelty.
A discussion of the letter is on the agenda for the City Council meeting tomorrow night.
At the earlier February meeting, reported by Jim Paulin in the Bristol Bay Times, the visiting delegation included the mayor of Anacortes, Laurie Gere; the president of Fisherman’s Finest which owns the boat, Dennis Moran; and Dick Nelson, the owner of the shipyard Dakota Creek Industries.
Mayor Gere said Unalaska and Anacortes share a common bond in the boat business, citing the various vessels that work in the Bering Sea which were built in Anacortes, including the Aurora, Auriga, Nordic Viking, and Starbound. “We truly are connected,” she said.
Moran said that Unalaska’s request for cod restrictions could block the Congressional waiver. He asked the city to reconsider, and allow the issue to be worked out at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The floor of the U.S. Senate, he said, is a bad place to solve fisheries problems.
The shoreplants were well represented at the city council meeting, sending in delegations of top officials and subordinates from Unisea, Westward, Alyeska and Trident.
Moran said an amended letter from Unalaska dropping the sideboard request needs to happen within the next two weeks. Unalaska Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said perhaps the various parties could discuss the matter again later.
In the meantime, the Pacific Seafood Processors has also weighed in to congressional staff and the city of Unalaska saying that sideboards preserve the historical catch of Fishermen’s Finest, but don’t allow them to expand by catching more cod at the expense of harvesters delivering to shore.
Any expansion of their offshore deliveries would take jobs and processing investment out of Unalaska, while in the past two years the shore based companies have made millions of dollars in investments in cod upgrades, and have made tens of millions of dollars investments in the communities where they are based.
All sides agree this is a council issue, and that the floor of the senate is not a good place to work out fisheries policy. But given the cutbacks in pacific cod, and the financial pressures at stake, shoreside processors are not willing to let the congressional waiver pass without addressing this issue.
On the other hand, Fishermen’s Finest CEO Moran has said that restrictive sideboards would put his company out of business as well.
The key question is partly whether the business plan for F/V America’s Finest was based on replacing the catch of existing vessels, or of increasing the overall catch to the company. Since the rationalization of amendment 80 limits the company to a specific quota, any possible expansion would have to come from ‘race for fish’ fisheries, and consequently has the potential to destabilize other participants.
Because of the failure to qualify under the Jones Act, this is now a political problem, not just a regulatory fight within the council, and all sides are using their maximum leverage.
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North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire is looking to make changes to the state’s Fish and Game Code with the Fisheries Omnibus Bill, SB 1309, which he introduced Friday.
NOAA Fisheries charts progress for West Coast species at risk
NOAA Fisheries – February 2018
NOAA Fisheries recently submitted its biennial Report to Congress on the status of threatened and endangered species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including five West Coast species at high risk of extinction.
Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands; 2018 and 2019 Harvest Specifications for Groundfish
A Rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 02/27/2018
NMFS announces final 2018 and 2019 harvest specifications, apportionments, and prohibited species catch allowances for the groundfish fishery of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area (BSAI). This action is necessary to establish harvest limits for groundfish during the 2018 and 2019 fishing years, and to accomplish the goals and objectives of the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area (FMP). The intended effect of this action is to conserve and manage the groundfish resources in the BSAI in accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).
BBRSDA Seeks Executive Director
BBRSDA – February 16, 2018
The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) is recruiting for an Executive Director. The job description can be found here.
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