Alaska/Pacific Coast

Fishermen are Having an Easier Time Finding Good Sized Pollock This Year
KMXT by Mitch Borden – October 19, 2017
There are four federally managed pollock seasons in the Gulf of Alaska. Currently, the last one of 2017 is underway. According to Josh Keaton, an inseason manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year’s pollock fishery has gone relatively smoothly.

Business leaders form group to oppose salmon protection ballot initiative
Alaska Dispatch News by Alex DeMarban – October 20, 2017
The Stand for Salmon group, which seeks to strengthen Alaska’s fish habitat protection laws through a ballot initiative, has spawned an opponent: Stand for Alaska.

In Their Own Words: Sablefish Gear Switching in the West Coast Trawl Quota Program
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Susan Chambers – October 23, 2017
The West Coast trawl catch shares program (individual fishing quota/IFQ program) was implemented in 2011 for the groundfish fishery — but it’s not without its problems. One provision rose to the top during the current five-year review as the most controversial: gear switching.

Sablefish is the most valuable groundfish, on a per-pound basis, on the West Coast. It is often graded on quality and at least five different sizes. Most sablefish is sold to Japan and a few other countries, but domestic markets have been in expanding for a few years. Whereas most other groundfish species have ex-vessel prices of cents per pound, sablefish frequently goes for dollars per pound. Better quality fish, i.e., those that are caught by longline or pots, typically fetch higher prices.

On the West Coast, sablefish — or blackcod — are caught in a mixed species fishery by trawl and are targeted by longline and pots. The species is an important component of the trawl “deepwater complex” that includes Dover sole, thornyhead rockfish and sablefish. Dover sole is a low price/high-volume species for trawlers but access may be limited if a trawler has insufficient sablefish quota.

Proponents of the trawl catch shares program in the late 2000s included an option to be able to switch gears to catch sablefish. That is, a trawler could use any legal groundfish gear, including pots and longline, to catch the valuable species if they so desired. Some fishermen say this was intended to allow trawlers to catch smaller amounts of sablefish that may be leftover from harvesting their deepwater complex. Other fishermen say it was intended to allow a switch to what some claim is an environmentally cleaner harvesting method. Because a single provision may have multiple purposes, both may be correct.

Regardless, the effect of the provision was that some fixed-gear vessels purchased trawl permits and quota and are now harvesting sablefish. Sablefish quota prices increased to the point where some trawlers could not afford to buy or lease it on the open market in order to access their Dover sole quota. Others may have simply chosen not to buy or lease the quota. A limited supply of sablefish quota overall may also have been the culprit for some trawlers not being able to access their Dover sole. In some years, the quota went quickly and less than five percent was available by year’s end. At the same time, fixed-gear vessels have made significant investments in gear and equipment to access trawl sablefish quota. Processors are concerned blackcod will continue to act as a choke species, limiting access to the volumes of groundfish necessary to keep processing crews working.

But there’s another wrinkle. Sablefish quota is available in two distributions: north or south of 36 degrees N. Latitude — near Point Conception in southern California. A handful of fixed-gear vessels using trawl quota have traveled from Oregon and Washington to fish the southern area. Southern California fixed-gear fishermen found themselves with new entrants on their traditional fishing grounds.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council in September took the first step at making the gear-switching provision work for everyone. One of the proposals includes eliminating the management line at 36 degrees north latitude, thereby creating one coastwide pool of quota. The Council also proposed mitigation measures to limit gear switching.

Seafood News talked with four people representing the major factions concerned about the sablefish gear-switching provision:

  • Jeff Lackey, a trawl vessel manager from Newport, Ore.
  • Michele Longo Eder, whose family members are fixed gear fishermen who have made investments in the trawl program
  • Mike Okoniewski, who works for a processor that depends on trawl groundfish
  • Chris Hoeflinger, representing Southern California traditional fixed-gear fishermen

Seafood News will run their perspectives, in their own words, of the gear-switching issue this week. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will be wrestling with this issue over the coming months.

— Susan Chambers

In his own words: Jeff Lackey, trawl vessel manager from Newport, Ore.:

The trawl catch shares program that began in 2011 has some positive elements. However, it has also led to operational difficulties that have significantly decreased catch for bottom trawlers.

The unintended consequence of the catch shares program was that a significant fixed-gear fishery for sablefish sprang up almost literally overnight within the trawl fishery. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of sablefish quota a year were going to fixed gear vessels and then coming to the dock without the associated catch of other groundfish species.

So by 2016, five years later, the species that trawl catch of sablefish helps get to the dock had seen their coastwide annual catch drop by about a third compared to pre-catch shares capacity. That’s roughly 14 million pounds a year in lost catch and corresponding seafood available to the consumer. This translates to dozens of lost full time jobs in the processing sector alone, as well as dozens of trawl vessels that left the fishery.

In 2011, some trawlers left the fishery altogether and some switched to the shrimp fishery rather than compete with fixed gear boats that were buying trawl permits and entering the trawl individual fishing quota (IFQ) fishery. It is difficult to generalize the business plan of each individual trawl vessel as each has a different set of circumstances, such as the amount of quota they have and the other fisheries they participate in.

However, when you match the individual stories of difficulty in executing a viable fishery given sablefish limitations with the overall data of a diminished fishery, a clear picture emerges. The lost yearly bottom trawl catch is about what one would expect for the amount of sablefish that has been lost from the trawl fishery. To return the fishery to pre-IFQ program catch levels and allow the stability the program affords to make even more gains, the coastwide sablefish quota allocated to the trawl IFQ program would need to be caught by trawl vessels to facilitate the catch of other groundfish species.

Administration appeals habitat initiative ruling
Alaska Journal of Commerce by Elwood Brehmer – October 20, 2017
The ballot initiative proposed to strengthen laws protecting salmon habitat is headed for a supreme resolution, which doesn’t bother the initiative’s primary sponsor.


NOAA’s Chris Oliver demands retraction of scientific paper alleging high levels of IUU fishing in Alaska
Seafood Source by Cliff White – October 20, 2017
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver has called for the retraction of a scientific paper that draws the conclusion that illegal and unreported seafood caught in the United States is entering the Japanese market.

Labeling and Marketing

3MMI – Drastically Low Hokkaido Chum Salmon Harvests Force Buyers To Look Elsewhere
TradexFoods – October 23, 2017
Hokkaido Chum salmon harvests are drastically lower this season, forcing many Japanese buyers to seek Chum elsewhere.

Federal Register

Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Shortraker Rockfish in the Western Regulatory Area of the Gulf of Alaska
A Rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 10/19/2017
NMFS is prohibiting retention of shortraker rockfish in the Western Regulatory Area of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). This action is necessary because the 2017 total allowable catch of shortraker rockfish in the Western Regulatory Area of the GOA has been reached.


Coast Guard prepares for aid to winter fisheries
Cordova Times – October 20, 2017
Coast Guard aircrews have delivered equipment and air assets to Cold Bay in advance of the winter fishery season, to reduce the time to initiate search and rescue response times around Bristol Bay, the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands.

Ann Owens
Pacific Seafood Processors Association
Office Manager
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Phone: 206.281.1667
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October 23, 2017