Alaska/Pacific Coast

Walker calls 2nd special session to avert a state government shutdown, puts fiscal measures aside
Alaska Dispatch News by Nathaniel Herz – June 17, 2017
JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature on Friday finished its first special session and began the next one hours later, as Gov. Bill Walker brought legislators back to resolve unfinished business. But for this second session, Walker set aside the proclamation for the full deficit reduction package that he made for the first to instead focus on just a budget that would avert a state government shutdown July 1.

“Big push” of fish in Bristol Bay’s westside rivers will trigger short notice for fleet
With what looks like a “sustained push” of reds up the Nushagak and Wood Rivers, coupled with stronger winds in the forecast, ADF&G’s Tim Sands to tell the fleet get ready and “don’t go dry.”
KDLG by Dave Bendinger – June 19, 2017
“There was a big uptick in passage yesterday: 59,000 raw count and still pushing this morning,” was the word from west side area manager Tim Sands early Monday. The problem is “technical difficulties” were creating problems sorting that the fish by species.

Gov shutdown may impact fishing and tourism in Homer
KBBI by Aaron Bolton – June 19, 2017
Alaska’s Legislature has been at an impasse for months on the state budget. Gov. Bill Walker called legislators back for a second special session Friday and voiced his dissatisfaction with their progress. With a potential state government shutdown about two weeks away, Homer’s fishing and tourism industry

Federal Register

Re-Proposal of an NPDES General Permit for Offshore Seafood Processors in Federal Waters Off the Washington and Oregon Coast (Permit Number WAG520000)
A Notice by the Environmental Protection Agency on 06/19/2017
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 re-proposes a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Offshore Seafood Processors in Federal Waters off the Washington and Oregon Coast (Permit Number WAG520000). On August 24, 2015, EPA released a draft NPDES General Permit for public review. The public comment period closed on October 8, 2015. Based on the comments received, EPA has made revisions to the draft General Permit. EPA is re-proposing a revised draft General Permit, revised Fact Sheet and a revised Biological Evaluation. EPA is only accepting comments on permit conditions that are different from those proposed in the draft General Permit that was issued for review and comment on August 24, 2015.

News Analysis

MSC Could be Kiss of Death for West Coast Groundfish
SEAFOODNEWS.COM [News Analysis] by John Sackton and Susan Chambers – June 19, 2017
The new Marine Stewardship Council 20th anniversary global impacts report is an impressive statement of MSC accomplishments.

But the report contains a fatal flaw; highlighted by the way the MSC holds up the West Coast groundfish fishery as a mighty example of success.
The rot at the heart of the MSC system is that they have no concern for maximum sustainable yield, the key driver of fisheries sustainability and economic viability.

The ‘Kiss of Death’ metaphor is because MSC continues to drive the sustainability conversation.  We don’t need more precaution and tighter oversight, as the MSC claims.  We need a rethinking about the harvest of sustainable species that recognizes the success in biological recovery, and that focuses on how to follow that with economic recovery. The MSC approach won’t let that happen.

While focusing on West Coast Groundfish, the MSC fails to mention that actual harvests of these species have not increased in five years, and in 2016 were only 500 tons higher than in 2011, despite the fact that between 2014 and 2016, sustainable allowable catches increased by 45%.  In short, the MSC is rushing to praise a fishery that is unable to land more than 19% of its allowable harvest.

Many NGOs have solutions for overfishing. In most cases, this involves simply shutting down the fishery, either through creating a marine reserve, or through restrictive gear closures, in a way that leads to little or no fishing.

The MSC, however, has always claimed to be market-based, meaning that they mobilized retailers who want a supply of sustainable seafood to sell, so the original MSC program did not call for closures but called for utilizing fisheries in a sustainable manner.

This is also an industry priority and so a firm alliance developed between the MSC and the industry on ending overfishing, with the hope that the MSC could help improve the marketability of fish and convince retailers that the seafood industry was serious about conservation and longevity.

Yet, after 20 years, the MSC has taken on a life of its own. It continues to get major grants from foundations such as the Walton Family Foundation, and it competes in the NGO ecosystem for money and attention. This means that no problem can ever be solved, because once a problem is solved, the money and attention turn elsewhere.

This now is the paradoxical case for fisheries in developed countries, like the US, EU, Canada, and New Zealand. As these countries have adopted laws and fishery management policies that have demonstrated huge success in ending overfishing, the MSC has ratcheted up its standards to preserve its own role — not to make seafood harvesting in the developed countries more sustainable.

A group of International scientists who founded the International Fisheries Information Network makes exactly this case: where fishing is controlled, science is funded, and enforcement is real, overfishing is not a problem.

What is a problem for both food security and the long term viability of the seafood industry is consistently harvesting fish well below the maximum sustainable yield.

The current pressing problem in US fisheries management, outside of Alaska, is to achieve maximum sustainable yields in mixed fisheries on the West coast and East Coast, so that instead of fishing 30% of the sustainable allowable catch, these fisheries can take 70% or 80% of the allowable catch.

In the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, healthy fisheries management has consistently meant that around 85% to 90% of the TAC is caught, and the 2 million ton cap in the Bering sea has meant that some fisheries are deliberately underharvested. This innovation, which may be the single greatest factor in the long term health of the Alaskan Bering Sea Fisheries, had nothing to do with the MSC and was put in place long before the MSC ever existed.

Now how is the MSC the kiss of death for West Coast Groundfish?

In both the MSC’s global impact report and in a press release highlighting the fact that West Coast Groundfish is a model for MSC impacts, the organization makes a number of false claims.

The first falsehood is that MSC was responsible for the improvements in West Coast groundfish stocks, as described in the press release around the global impact report.

“The MSC Global Impacts Report 2017 spotlights the U.S. West Coast groundfish trawl among more than a thousand examples of positive change made by certified fisheries to safeguard fish stocks and marine habitats.”

The changes in the trawl fishery came about when NOAA and the Pacific Fishery Management Council transitioned to a catch shares/individual quota program in 2011. The industry — not just trawl, but sport and commercial fixed gear fisheries as well — had operated under tightly restrictive ACLs since the early 2000s, when several species were declared overfished.

Groundfish stocks had been rebuilding for a decade before the trawl IFQ program was intstituted in 2011. The MSC then certified the West Coast groundfish fisheries 3 years later, after the industry has implemented changes.

“The MSC report provides governments, industry and NGOs with evidence for credible certification as a powerful tool to catalyze and secure improvements in marine fisheries.”

The report itself, highlighting again West Coast groundfish, says MSC will work closely with NOAA, and says the MSC is closely involved. “To meet conditions on stock status, it has completed a management strategy evaluation of its flatfish harvest control rules, and will be updating the stock assessments for groundfish species including arrowtooth flounder and lingcod to ensure that catch rates are appropriate and take a precautionary approach.”

What is the actual state of West Coast groundfish? Taking the complex that is listed for MSC certification, we have analyzed the catch data compared to Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) since 2011, when the fishery became part of the IFQ system.

Chart:  Actual Landings vs. Allowable Catch for Groundfish IFQ Holders (Data Pacfin and NMFS, Chart by Seafood Datasearch)

In 2011, the total ACL for the complex was 141,000 metric tons. Between 2011 and 2014 it fell to 64,449 tons, with major drops in the ACL for Arrowtooth and English sole, but an increase in Dover sole. Since 2014, the total ACL for the West Coast groundfish complex has risen 45%, to 93,842 tons in 2016.  The species included are flounders (arrowtooth, dover sole, English sole, Petrale Sole), major species of rockfish including splitnose, widow, yellowtail, chilipepper, Thornyheads and Canary, and lingcod, sablefish and skates that are caught by trawl gear.

Yet the harvest share of the ACL has not budged at all. Total landings of Allowable Catch was 17,019 tons in 2011, and 17,552 tons in 2016.

In fact, in recent years the percent of sustainable fish landed has fallen while the overall stock has been increasing. While ACL increased 45% between 2014 and 2016, landings fell from 26% of the ACL to 19% of the ACL.

Chart: Percentages of Allowable Harvest that are actually landed are declining.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, as Shakespeare would say.

Currently the West Coast IFQ program is undergoing a five-year review, and the council is looking at the problems created when harvesters make sacrifices for sustainability and then are not allowed to catch the fish that can be sustainably harvested.

This is the same issue as exists on the East Coast.

The MSC response, as typified in its press release and its Global Impacts study, is to call for more of the same MSC prescriptions: a more precautionary approach, new restrictions implemented via standards, and a possible expansion of MSC ratings to cover such things as labor contracts and crew.

If the MSC continues in this direction, its involvement and influence in West Coast fisheries will be a rolling disaster.

The key issue today is not the sustainability of West Coast stocks. We know they are sustainable, and a strong recovery program is in place. The key issue is that harvesters on the West Coast are hampered by an IFQ management system that fails to allow for a sustainable harvest.

This puts the entire industry at economic risk. With so little of the fish being landed, it is harder for processors to stay in business. It is harder for consumers to get West Coast fish, and it is harder for fishermen to run viable businesses to pay for their boats and gear.
An economic crisis is unfolding over groundfish, and the MSC is choosing to exacerbate the problem, rather than work to improve harvesting volumes.

Unfortunately, the MSC defines retailers’ perceptions of West Coast groundfish.

That is why we feel the MSC’s embrace of the West Coast fishery is potentially a kiss of death, as they become an impediment to the desperate reforms needed to keep a healthy and sustainable fishery economically viable.

Ann Owens
Pacific Seafood Processors Association
Office Manager
1900 W Emerson Place Suite 205, Seattle, WA 98119
Phone: 206.281.1667
E-mail:; Website:
Our office days/hours are Monday-Friday
8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.

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June 20, 2017