Executive Director - Jim Johnson

As 2018 draws to a close we reflect on this past year’s challenges and opportunities and we are again left grappling with the thorny issues of Abundance Based Management and the many short-comings of the failed partial observer coverage program before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Abundance Based Management (ABM) of juvenile halibut in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands 

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has now had two and half years to develop an ABM program to no avail. The Deeps Sea Fishermen’s Union and our ally the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association (FVOA) has actively been engaged in trying to develop options on this topic that would attempt to tie a trawl and or a fixed gear bycatch CAP to rising and lowering halibut abundances.

Most stakeholders rightly believe that we are likely another year and a half out before the Council will finally make a policy decision. At the October 2018 meeting, the Council decided to kick the can down the road some more and chose to create stakeholder focus groups to study a suite of Council identified options. The Union and FVOA had requested that for analysis purposes the 2017 actual trawl and freezer LL bycatch usages be analyzed with other options. The Council adopted the current halibut CAP of 3,515mt. and the 2016 usage number of 2,354 metric tons for analysis. The Council (including the three Washington votes) was obviously influenced by the bottom trawl sector when it chose to ignore the 2017s 1,789 metric ton usage number.

At the time of writing, the Halibut resource is down in biomass almost 50% and in numbers by 58% in the Bering Sea. The current actual usage of Halibut is driven largely by lack of fish on the grounds. The IPHC is out with its 2018 stock assessment and harvest decision table for Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) for 2018 can be found by clicking the button below and the fishery looks far worse with a second consecutive year of 7% decrease from 2017

These Halibut bycaught in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands have detrimentally impacted the spawning Halibut biomass from the Gulf of Alaska, through British Columbia and Washington all the way to Oregon.

It is remarkable that the Council including representative from Washington choose the 2016 usage rate as the starting point.

Council mandated Halibut ABM stakeholder group meetings will not commence until November 29th, so nothing will come from these stakeholder activities in time for the December Council meeting in Anchorage. There were two very important issues at the last North Pacific Council meeting.

Partial Coverage Observer Program 

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) currently administers two partial observer programs. One program is for bottom fishing trawlers and the other program is for fishing vessels delivering to shoreside processors or their tenders.

The owners of the fishing vessels and our members (crew and skippers) are forced to pay the bulk of the $3.8 million annually collected for the partial coverage observer program that effectively provides observer coverage for less than 10% of program’s coverage mandate.

The Halibut and Sablefish fishermen cover about 70% of this cost through a delivery fee of 1.25% of ex vessel landings. As a special consideration only extending to bottom fishing trawlers, their vessels that deliver to fishing tenders are allowed them never to take aboard a fishing observer as long as they make continuous deliveries to a tender.

We were recently informed that our contribution to this failed and highly suspect partial coverage observer program is likely to be increased by 60% from a gross stock expense to of 1.25% to 2% (see related post) by a trawl-centric Council as it misguidedly seeks to throw more working Halibut and Sablefish fishermen money at a failed program while the large, well healed and hard on the ocean bottom trawl companies are aided and allowed to shirk their responsibility at a sustainable fishery.

The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union and the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association remains convinced that the Council and certain elements of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are buckling under pressure from the trawl sector and are unwilling to make the programmatic changes necessary for a robust partial observer program and merely wants to implement an expensive and one-sided increase in the landing fee to more that $1400 per observer day.

Despite our bleak assessment of the shoddy and un-business-like approach that the Council and NMFS is taking in this matter, we offer up the alternatives to saddling us with the cost of a failed partial observer program our doing away with the program entirely and starting over.

Tendering Loophole

The companies taking advantage of “Tendering Loophole” are the shorebased processors and largely their trawl fleet in the Western Gulf and Dutch Harbor.

In a recent letter authored by Bob Alverson from the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association, the Council has been asked for what must be the tenth time to ensure that the fixed gear fishermen no longer suffer unequal treatment where bottom fishing trawlers are solely allowed to avoid observer coverage by making deliveries and offloads to tenders in the western Gulf of Alaska, Pacific Cod and Pollock fisheries.

In the lead up to the Council meeting scheduled from December 3-11, 2018 we are again seeking meaningful reform of one of the highly problematic areas of the partial coverage observer program.

Bottom fishing trawlers must not be allowed to minimally interact with fish tendering vessels before delivery to shoreside fish processors, thereby avoiding the “burden” of having their highly impactful harvest go unobserved by scientist.

For far too long, the Council has been resistant to the demand from industry stakeholders, environmental groups, internal Council committees such as the Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Council’s Advisory Panel and the people of Oregon, Washington and Alaska to do something about this outrageous situation immediately.

The amount of bycatch and ocean life mortality that bottom fishing trawlers produce and their impact generally on the marine environment where Halibut, Sablefish, Crab and Salmon spawn and reside as juvenile fish is driving the environment, fishing businesses and fishermen to ruin and must no longer be ignored by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fishery Service.

Their fishing practices and the area they cover has a disproportionate impact on small, family run and environmentally sustainable fixed gear Halibut and Sablefish fishermen. Members of the Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union and the fishing vessel owners have been unfairly required by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to largely fund the entire North Pacific Fishery observer program (see related article).

The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union, fishing industry and environmental stakeholders and an increasingly informed citizenry of Oregon, Washington and Alaska are demanding that the North Pacific Council immediately take the necessary action along with the National Marine Fishery Service to enforce the law.

We take seriously our responsibility as the oldest and sole remaining fishermen union advocating for fair compensation, safe working conditions and sustainable fisheries of Halibut and Sablefish of the North Pacific from the Coasts of Oregon and Washington to the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

We will continue to accomplish much as an organization in 2019 and as Executive Director I remain committed to the interests of the Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific. 

Best Regards,

Jim - November 2018

James Johnson
Executive Director - Deep Sea Fishermen's Union

(206) 612-0106