Monday, June 25, 2012

Time to Declare All-Out War on the Trawler Pirates

Sunday's announcement that today's scheduled opener for setnetters in the Kasilof subdistrict of upper Cook Inlet may do more to raise the ire of Alaskans than all the depredations undergone for decades by mostly Alaska Native subsistence and commercial users in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.  Over the years, all the  writings, testimony at fishery oversight boards, attempts to get conservation-minded people appointed to such boards, and pleas to our serving politicians have gotten us almost nowhere, when it comes to forcing the Bering Sea and North Pacific trawl fleets to severely limit their bycatch of  halibut and Chinook salmon.  But the Kenai commercial and sports salmon fisheries are so deeply enmeshed in several aspects of Alaska politics, and - more importantly - white male-dominated Alaska politics - that a tipping point may have been reached this week:
[B]ased on the poor performance of Kenai River early-run king salmon stocks, as well as king salmon stocks in Cook Inlet and other areas of the state, it is likely that the Kenai River late-run king salmon stock will also experience poor performance and require conservative management. Therefore, the department intends to manage the Kasilof Section set gillnet fishery with two primary objectives.
First, the department is charged with meeting an optimum escapement goal (OEG) in the Kasilof River, enumerated with sonar, of 160,000-390,000 sockeye salmon. The set gillnet fishery will be fished with this escapement objective as the primary management target. In addition, the fishery will also be managed to conserve late-run king salmon stocks, especially if inseason assessment reveals these stocks are performing poorly.
Commercial fishing openings will be predicated upon sockeye salmon escapement levels and inseason assessment of late-run king salmon stocks. This is a significant change in the management of the Upper Subdistrict set gillnet fishery, but the department’s priority is to ensure adequate escapement and conserve salmon stocks when necessary. 
There has been a cascade of Chinook return failures, beginning with the Copper River, where opening commercial catches of Sockeye were very high, but Chinook returns were surprisingly low, leading to the cutoff of Chinook harvest by personal use fishery dipnetters below Chitina.  The returns in the Taku, Stikine and Chilkat Rivers in Southeast Alaska are abnormally low.

The shutdown of both commercial and subsistence Chinook fisheries in the predominantly Alaska Native Yukon fisheries are once again leading to civil disobedience and harsh reaction by the Parnell administration's law enforcement arm there:
State and federal wildlife officials this week seized 21 nets and 1,100 pounds of salmon from subsistence fishermen in Southwest Alaska, Alaska State Troopers say. The seizures, on Wednesday, come during a subsistence fishing closure on the Lower Kuskokwim River. 

Low salmon runs there have again hammered cash-poor village residents who rely on salmon as a traditional food source. At least some of the fishermen may have been on the river in an act of civil disobedience. Two communities -- Tuntutuliak and Akiak -- issued resolutions or statements encouraging residents to fish despite the government ban that began earlier this month, according to a troopers spokesman. 

State and federal wildlife officers issued 33 citations in all. The offense is a criminal misdemeanor, said trooper spokesman Tim DeSpain. 

The Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents plans to meet next week and ask the state to issue a disaster declaration in the region. "They're getting depressed and it's getting to be a crisis situation, because they're not going to have any food," said Myron Naneng, AVCP president, who was visiting the Kuskokwim River village of Akiachak Thursday. 

"Salmon is 'neqa' in Yup'ik. In literal translation, in Yup'ik, (it) means food," Naneng said. 
Salmon means food on the lower Yukon, but salmon means hundreds of millions of dollars on Cook Inlet.  Earlier in June, the Kenai River sports Chinook fishery was closed:
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed the river from the mouth upstream to Skilak Lake to king salmon fishing beginning Friday. The closure will be in place during the early run of kings through the end of June. 
The Peninsula Clarion reports that Fish and Game says the early king run on the Kenai looks to be perhaps the lowest on record. 
The lowest on record. 

Soon afterward, the Susitna drainage was closed down to Chinook catch:
The state is banning all fishing for king salmon in the Susitna River drainage starting Monday morning because of poor runs. Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the department's sportfishing division, said Friday that the ban will be will take effect at 6 a.m. Monday in an effort to meet minimum spawning goals. King salmon returns throughout Alaska have been in deep decline for the last few years and the bottom may not have been reached yet, fishery biologists say. 
Anchorage Daily News investigative reporter, Richard Mauer, has taken the lead there in writing about this debacle.  Mauer is Alaska's best investigative journalist.  His articles on the subject of the closures are perhaps too careful, though.  In two articles, Mauer quotes fishery experts who seem to claim Alaska's Chinook are at or near the low end of some sort of natural cycle.  Yet, at the same time, North Pacific halibut stocks are in a similar downward spiral.

To more and more people, the most obvious culprit is the fishery that wantonly wastes and kills hundreds and hundreds of thousands of halibut and Chinook salmon every year, every month, every week and every day - the deepwater trawl fishery.  Comments to Mauer's articles point toward the obvious.  Here's just one example:
does anybody believe the the Bycatch numbers are factual !!! 

Observer coverage is only 30% and I have seen whole tows released before being brought to the surface because the Observer was on deck, the trawler boss knew he had a dirty tow !! released underwater most of these fish are dead already and the thousads of King Salmon the observer would have counted are gone usally the next dirty tow the observer may be at lunch or off shift and below deck this is the dirtiest fishery and without a doubt the most rigged. 

Cameras are not allowed on these boats because the owners don't want it known what is really going on, So believe what you want but if these Trawlers are not stopped good luck with your King fishing, and your Juvenile Halibut are getting swallowed up too .. 

But don't worry Pollack is available at your local market.
People want to do something about this.  Those of us watching the trawlers decimate or destroy our fisheries for decades have felt all but powerless. But now that the Kenai and upper Cook Inlet are being hit by their greed and wanton waste, things may change.

Here are two ways you can help:

1.  You can join the Facebook page I started last winter, called Occupy Fisheries.  The group is small, but there are many high quality links posted there every week that can alert you to actions on stopping legalized fish piracy.

2.  You can sign this letter to Gov. Parnell.  I have.  It reads:
We the sport and subsistence fishing people of Alaska, demand an end to trawler bottom fishing of pollock that produces chinook salmon and halibut bycatch. We demand a full investigation and the complete shut down of this fishing industry until results show the trawlers don't take all the fish. We have a right to our fair share of this fishery through sport and/or subsistence fishing according to Article 8.3 of Alaska State Constitution. 
 Please comment here, if you know of other movements afoot to stop the lunacy of high bycatch limits and limited surveillance of the blue water trawl fleet.


Anonymous said...

Wherein lies the public interest? Your rant is entirely one-sided and unscientific and just plain dumb. There might be some downsides to current fishing practices and allocations, but remember the purpose of the pollock fishery is to feed the nation, not some weekend "hunter-gatherer" from the University. You newcomers really don't get it, do you?

Anonymous said...

Good job Phil!
Anon- not so much. Feed the nation? Pffft.
Fill some pocketbooks, make some cheap fish sticks, and let the high dollar and high nutrition value fish like salmon and halibut go?
Alaska Pi

Anonymous said...

You tell 'em Pi.

HarpboyAK said...

Anonymous, who is the "latecomer"? Draggers are mostly out of state boats fishing for foreign owned processors. Phil isn't arguing for urban fishers, but the subsistence dependent villagers.

Scientific evidence won't happen until we have full time observers on every dragger with the power to fully document everything.

Better just to shut the draggers down and watch the salmon & halibut populations recover.

THAT will be scientific evidence.

Anonymous said...

"There might be some downsides to current fishing practices and allocations"

Now there's an understatement.

"but remember the purpose of the pollock fishery is to feed the nation"

Which nation would that be?

Whatever the purpose of the pollock fishery might have been on paper, the purpose today is to enrich multinationally owned fishing companies at the expense of people who depend on the salmon, halibut, crab and marine mammals that suffer as collateral damage.

Pollock Provides.