Unfortunate Decision on Bairdi Suggests Alaska Failing its Fisheries Obligations in Age of Austerity
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by John Sackton – January 23, 2017
Alaska’s fiscal crisis is continuing, as low oil prices have decimated the state budget. One of the important foundations of the state’s economy going forward is its fishing industry. Yet at their January meeting, the Alaska Board of Fisheries rejected a request to open a small Bairdi fishery under unique circumstances this year that would have been worth $25 million.
The difficulty of the fisheries situation in Alaska is partly due to the fact that at the same time the state is becoming more dependent on fisheries resources, the impact of global warming and possible spatial changes in stocks is creating new uncertainty in traditional survey estimates.
The ADF&G mission statement says “The primary goals are to ensure that Alaska’s renewable fish and wildlife resources and their habitats are conserved and managed on the sustained yield principle, and the use and development of these resources are in the best interest of the economy and well-being of the people of the state.”
Unfortunately, the Board of Fisheries Decision to deny a well-researched plan for a small Bairdi fishery this year put out of date science over the interests of the “economy and well-being” of the people of the state.
Bairdi crab has been an Alaska success story. Once a highly sought after crab that was larger and more valuable than Opilio, the fishery was closed for four years, from 2010 to 2013. A small fishery reopened in 2014, harvesters again learned to target Bairdi, and the harvestable quota increased to nearly 20 million pounds in 2016.
With the continued decline of Opilio, the market for Bairdi was just getting established, and it had begun to represent an important source of revenue again for harvesters, processors, and fishing communities.
NMFS crab survey estimates were poor for Opilio and for Bairdi, in 2016-17, so the Bairdi fishery was closed, and the Opilio fishery, which will mostly open this month, had the smallest quota ever allowed for a fishery opening.
The reason the Bairdi was closed was not for lack of a surplus of harvestable males. Instead, it was due to the poor survey results for females. The state Bairdi management regime, which has not been updated since the stock was considered too low to fish, makes opening dependent on a 40% threshold level of mature females as well as males, even though females are not harvested in the fishery.
But there were real issues with the conclusion that female abundance was below the target threshold.
The Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation, which conducts a side-by-side survey each year to the NMFS survey to inform trawl selectivity, evaluated two independent summaries of the 2016 summer survey data to further understand the current stock status. While the foundation does not engage in policy, its work further informs the best available science.
The letter to the Board of Fish detailing the BSFRF survey analysis made the following points:
-Both surveys confirmed a declining trend in female crab abundance, but the relationship of the two surveys significantly changed in 2016. In that year, the NMFS survey showed only 20% proportion of the stations capturing mature females, while in other years they had seen 26% of the stations with mature females.
The side by side survey of BSFRF showed no change in 2016 comparable to that seen by NMFS, and as a result the BSFRF data suggested mature female biomass to be 23% higher than NMFS reported, sufficient to change the calculation about closure due to lack of mature females.
The BSFRF also suggested that record warm bottom temperatures may have been the reason fewer mature female crabs were seen at the NMFS survey stations.
-While survey methods have changed and resulted in lower selectivity for crab, the harvest strategy has not adjusted. The existing mature female bairdi biomass threshold is biased by higher survey selectivity prior to 1982.
Finally, the most important point raised at the recent BOF meeting is that facts on the ground raise significant questions. The actual mature female bairdi biomass, as observed onboard the survey, is significantly higher than the estimate of female maturity defined by terms in the current ADF&G harvest strategy, the latter of which is used to determine whether the threshold for a fishery is met. ADF&G uses a cutoff of 79 mm (West) and 85 mm (East) to define female maturity, Yet physical observation on board the survey vessel showed that a significant number of mature female crab, based on the condition of the abdominal flap, were sexually mature despite being well below 79 mm in carapace size.
This suggests that the process is significantly undercounting mature Bairdi female crab.
Based on this science and a well-understood need to update the current state harvest strategy, crab harvesters, processors, and crab processing communities, supported a proposal to open a small fishery of 4 million lbs only in the Western Bering Sea district.
The mature male biomass is at 100 million pounds, the fifth highest ever surveyed, and the abundance is 177% of the maximum sustainable yield.
In the Western district there was an increase in the number of males from the prior year, and only a small decrease in the number of females. Most of the fishery takes place with minimal harvesting and handling of females. They go through the escape rings on the Bairdi crab pots and are never hauled to the surface.
The industry was clear in its testimony that support for a small fishery in 2016/2017 was based on the scientific evidence that there would be little to no risk to the stock. A 4 million pound fishery, made while the harvest strategy is revised to represent more recent data, would not impact female crab and would have no impact on the main precautionary issue: that there must be enough males to mate with the lesser abundant females.
ADF&G staff, in opposing the proposal, argued that the risk of localized male depletion was too great to allow the fishery. On the other hand, several industry testifiers noted that the mature males proposed to be harvested this year would die naturally before contributing to future spawning capability.
ADF&G also argued that recruitment in the Bairdi fishery was highly variable and that for this reason a more precautionary approach was warranted. In their presentation, they said ““The board recognizes these policies may not result in maximization of physical or economic yield. They will, however, provide better biological protection and help preserve the reproductive viability of king and Tanner crab stocks which inherently vary in abundance due to environmental conditions. “
The Board vote was a 3-3 tie, with one member recusing themselves. As a result the motion failed.
Why was this such an unfortunate decision.
The reason is that the decision maintaining the status quo failed to recognize the ways in which fishery management and resources are being challenged today. In short, changing climate is leading to greater variability, and lower levels of science resources are leading to less certainty. In this situation, it is appropriate for managers to take risks that in other years they may have avoided. In this proposal, the industry was asking for a one year change to the regulation that did not appear to involve significant risk to the fishery.
For several years ASMI and the crab industry has been trying to bring Bairdi to the US crab market as a distinctive and high-quality large crab. This had begun to be successful and several large crab users adopted Bairdi programs in 2016. The fishery closure stopped this development in its tracks.
Given the historically unprecedented demand for both king and snow crab in the US, crab prices are at record levels this year. Opilio is being sold at prices over $8.00 per lb, and the payments to harvesters and processors will likely be at record highs for this season.
Bairdi would have commanded an even higher price. 4 million lbs. of bairdi, after processing would have been worth nearly $25 million to the processing sector.
Out of this, about $16 million ($4.00 per lb) would have been paid to harvesters.
Revenues going to the State, ASMI and Communities who have local fish taxes would have been:
State: $480,000 (1.3% of all state fish tax revenues in 2015)
Local Communities: $360,000 (2% in Unalaska, 2% in Aleutians East Borough, plus local taxes in Akutan, King Cove, False Pass and Sand Point) assuming average rate was 2.25%
In other words, the proposed Bairdi fishery would have meant nearly $1 million in additional state and local revenues; it would have returned $16 million in gross revenues to harvesters, would have resulted in gross first wholesale revenues to processors of around $25 million on 2.56 million lbs of sections based on the current record prices being paid for Alaska crab, and would have maintained markets that have only been recently developed for Bairdi.
At a time where the financial future of the state and many communities are on the line, to forgo that revenue due to poor science or the inability to adjust models to current data is simply not an acceptable outcome.
The ADF&G mission statement says its goal is to ensure “the use and development of these resources are in the best interest of the economy and well-being of the people of the state.”
This was a borderline decision with no conservation impact. At that point, the Board of Fisheries could have focused more seriously on the economic risks to the state, as well as the conservation risks.
The Board of Fisheries identified a concern with this scenario continuing into the future and appeared supportive of ADF&G staff doing the work to update and revise the harvest strategy to the latest science in time for the 2017/2018 fishery. This is imperative to avoid needlessly costing the Bairdi fishery and the state millions of dollars in lost opportunity.
Gillnetters get continued access to main Columbia River
Decision puts Oregon at odds with Washington state
Capital Bureau by Eric Mortenson – January 21, 2017
SALEM — By a tight 4-3 vote, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission veered away from an outright ban on gillnetting in the main channel of the Lower Columbia River and set the state at odds with neighboring Washington on how to manage protected salmon and steelhead.
Seldovia Wild Seafood to move back home
Peninsula Clarion by Elizabeth Earl – January 20, 2017
Since its inception, Seldovia Wild Seafood’s owners have wanted to bring their business back to the little city on Kachemak Bay. This year, their dream will come true.
Oregon adopts Columbia River salmon reform plan
The Columbian by Al Thomas – January 22, 2017
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday adopted its version of the controversial Columbia River salmon management reforms, opting for a plan more friendly to commercial fishing than its Washington counterpart.
United States continues global leadership to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing
NOAA Fisheries – January 2017
NOAA Fisheries has taken another step forward in cracking down on illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) practices around the world with the release of its 2017 Biennial Report to Congress. The report highlights U.S. findings and analyses of foreign IUU fishing activities and of bycatch of protected species and shark catch on the high seas.
Trump Reviving Fortunes for Mine Explorer With Zero Revenue
Bloomberg by Natalie Obiko Pearson – January 18, 2017
There’s one thing Donald Trump is already making great again: a small Canadian explorer with rights to one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits.
Pacific Fishery Management Council; Public Meeting
A Notice by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 01/24/2017
The Pacific Fishery Management Council (Pacific Council) will convene a work session via webinar for the Scientific and Statistical Committee’s (SSC) Economics Subcommittee, which is open to the public.
NOAA satellites helped save 307 lives in 2016
Phys.org – January 20, 2017
Forty-six crew members, with their lives hanging in the balance, were safely pulled from a sinking fishing vessel in the Bering Sea near Alaska last July. It was the largest single rescue in, or around, the United States credited to NOAA satellites and ground systems.
IN BRIEF – New Wave of Electronic Monitoring Projects in U. S. Fisheries Highlighted at National Workshop
Fis.com – January 24, 2017
The second national electronic monitoring workshop was held in Seattle, Washington late last year. Hosted by NOAA Fisheries, the goal was to bring together fisheries monitoring and management experts to share what’s working in EM implementation projects, what’s not, and to develop solutions and paths forward.
IN BRIEF – 30-Day Stakeholder Comment Period Open for Alaska Salmon Fishery Draft Assessment Report
Fis.com – January 24, 2017
The Alaska RFM Certification Draft Assessment Report for the re-certification of the Alaska salmon fishery is now available for registered stakeholder comment. The 30-day comment period runs from January 23, 2017 through February 21, 2017 at 5:00 PM Pacific.
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