Alaska moves to expand permit access for young fishermen

Submitted by Jan Standaert

Written by Laine Welch April 24, 2017

Numerous studies over the past decade have highlighted Alaska’s “graying of the fleet” (the average age of permit holders is 50), and the lack of opportunities for younger people to launch a career in commercial fishing.

State data show that between 1975 and 2014, more than 2,300 limited entry permits (nearly 28 percent) migrated away from Alaska’s rural fishing communities to non-residents.

A new measure gaining steam in the Alaska legislature aims to reverse that trend by creating fisheries trusts in which communities could buy permits and lease them to fishermen who otherwise could not afford them.

“It’s good to recognize the problem, but it’s even better to try and do something about it,” said Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) sponsor of the legislation (HB 188).

Under the plan, regional trusts could buy or be gifted a maximum of 2.5 percent of the permits in any given fishery, and lease them for up to six years to fishermen who want to make the transition from deckhand to permit owners. The fishermen must then buy their own permits if they choose to continue in a fishery. The trusts would apply to all limited entry fisheries in Alaska.

At the outset, the trusts would be authorized in up to three Alaska regions that choose to opt in, and must be approved by two-thirds of any municipality. Board members would be recommended by cities and boroughs in each region and appointed by the governor. Unincorporated communities may also be included on the board.

“Just as people often rent before buying a house, fisheries trusts offer an opportunity to run a boat and gain experience before making the six-figure decision to finance a permit and become an independent small business owner,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

Interested stakeholders, which include Alaska Native groups, state agencies and fishing organizations from Southeast to Nome, have spent more than two and a half years developing the idea.

“We are continuing to craft and refine the model in terms of legality and policy,” Kreiss-Tomkins said, adding that the level of interest is very region specific.

“Some are very bullish about the opportunity, some are not. That’s totally fine,” he said. “We expect some will watch and see how it goes, and then make a decision once they have more information.”

The measure is scheduled for hearings during the current extended legislative session although it is not expected to be put to a vote.

“We are taking it slow and steady,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “In the interim, we are hoping to grow the conversation with fishing communities, economic development advocates and other stakeholders who would benefit from this tool in their tool box. Then we will be ready to revisit it next year.”

Young Unveils Young Fishermen's Development Act

Washington, D.C.  –  Alaska Congressman Don Young, a longtime leader in national fisheries policy and legislation, this week unveiled his newest bill –  H.R. 2079, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act to address the longtime decline in younger Americans entering the commercial fishing fleet  – or “graying of the fleet.” Young’s legislation would create the first ever national grant program through the Department of Commerce to support training, education, and workplace development for the nation’s next generation of commercial fishermen.

“This innovative new program is only one effort to preserve fishing heritage and encourage new participation in the industry,” said Congressman Don Young. “Young commercial fishermen are facing bigger challenges than ever before – new barriers to entry, limited training opportunities and a lack of support. This legislation is about supporting the livelihoods of fishing communities in Alaska and across the nation. I’m proud to stand with our young fishermen by introducing this important piece of legislation.”

Congressman Young introduced H.R. 2079 with Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) to create a completive grant program – modeled closely after the successful Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program – to provide meaningful resources for younger generations of Americans entering and progressing in the fishing industry.

“The fishing industry is vital to the Sixth District and to our entire region, but we’re at a crossroads,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). This legislation will help to sustain the fishing industry by ensuring that our young people not only have a future in fishing, but are also empowered with the training and resources necessary to thrive in the 21st-century economy. I’m grateful to Congressman Young for his collaboration on this bill and broader efforts to support our young fishermen.”

The legislation would authorize up to $200,000 in competitive grants through NOAA’s Sea Grant Program to support new and established local and regional training, education, outreach, and technical assistance initiatives for young fishermen. These programs, workshops and service include: seamanship, navigation, electronics, and safety; vessel and engine care, maintenance, and repair; innovative conservation fishing gear engineering and technology; entrepreneurship and good business practices; direct marketing, supply chain, and traceability; financial and risk management, including vessel, permit, and quota purchasing.

Fishermen’s Association. “Empowering the next generation of young fishermen is essential to economic opportunity, food security and our way of life.”

“Representatives Moulton and Young understand that the success of young fishermen is vital to the survival of fishing communities in New England and across the country,” said John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. “We look forward to working with them on this important effort to ensure the next generation of commercial fishermen are on the water and ready to sustainably harvest America’s seafood.”


Abundance-Based Proposal

Executive Director Jim Johnson and Bob Alverson from the Fishing Vessel Owners Association have advanced the following Abundance-Based Proposal for consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at the April meeting in Juneau, Alaska.


March 27, 2017

Mr. Dan Hull, Chairman
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
605 W. 4th, Suite 306
Anchorage, AK 99501-2252

RE:    Comments to Agenda Item C-7 Bering Sea and Aleutian Island Abundance-Based Halibut PSC

Dear Chairman Hull:

The following comments and recommendation are provided to you from the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association (FVOA) and Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific (DSFU). The FVOA is a trade association representing 95 family-owned longline vessels. It has been representing fixed-gear interests since 1914. The DSFU was established in 1912 and is not only the oldest, but also the sole, fishing union in Washington and the United States still working tirelessly to advocate for fair wages, safe working conditions, and supporting our widely-recognized, sustainable, and well-managed fixed-gear fisheries. Both organizations have a direct interest in reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. Both organizations have members fishing in all the U.S. IPHC regulatory areas ranging from the Bering Sea to Area 2A off Washington and Oregon.

The following option addresses the interest of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) in the development of an abundance-based halibut PSC mechanism for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The Council’s working committee has identified two, important decision points: the starting PSC use amount for an abundance-based program, and the mechanism that would result in a plus or minus function based on halibut abundance. The ability, annually or otherwise periodically, to allow the PSC use amount to fluctuate based on certain scientific and economic data inputs requires a framework amendment to the Bering Sea Groundfish Plan. Accordingly, the FVOA and DSFU submit the following, proposed, framework plan. 

Our option puts the Council in control at all times when adjusting the PSC use CAP for different sectors of the groundfish fishery.  As industry technology advances, the Council can take precautionary, incremental steps to reduce the use CAP in the interest of bycatch management, without the fear of causing undue economic impact on the directed fisheries.  By the same token, as the densities of halibut and/or groundfish target species change, up or down, the Council can respond.

The approach we offer is to have the Council analyze a range of potential future reductions from the current PSC limits. We recommend the starting point be the current PSC CAPs. We recommend analysis of a range of possible reductions between 35 to 50 percent from the current PSC use amounts. This would represent the maximum potential reduction limit. PSC reductions would be achieved with the Council making annual incremental movements in the PSC usage to achieve long-term reduction goals through their current “specs” process. Reduction of the halibut PSC use limits would be constrained to not more than zero to 3 percent annually. The Council would apply the reductions until the groundfish fleets minimize bycatch and mortality of unavoidable bycatch to the extent practicable until PSC limits equal the amount of bycatch the fleets were actually experiencing at the end of 2016.  After PSC use levels were reduced to current usages, the Council would move the PSC level ±3 percent on an annual basis.  

At the end of 2016, the freezer longline fleet was using 60% of its current CAP.  It might be expected that the Council would ratchet down PSC over a period of four or five years to reach that level of actual bycatch.  For the Amendment 80 fleet, the bycatch for 2016 was 1492 Mt and it might be expected that the PSC would be reduced to that level in three or four years.
This option could be developed as part of any future, abundance-based program or developed as a stand-alone amendment to the current Bering Sea and Aleutian Island Groundfish Management Plan.  Amendments could be offered to it when a holistic abundance-based concept was completed by the Council and IPHC staff. 

Considering that the abundance-based bycatch science will not be completed for as long as ten years, the FVOA and the DSFU suggest the adoption of this option as a stand-alone amendment. The phased approach to CAP reductions would allow the groundfish fleet to calibrate solutions, and would incentivize the fleets by letting them know that PSC reductions are an ongoing concern.

Executive Director
James J. Johnson

Robert D. Alverson    



Report from Sitka

It is being reported that the new head on weight requirement is causing major problems on the first few halibut loads coming into Sitka. Local processors are weighing fish head on, taking fish out of totes, cutting heads, putting fish back in totes, and reweighing, then taking them out of totes to sort for size and weight splits, adding extra handling of the fish, ice and slime issues, and a fair bit of extra time. 

On top of these concerns, NMFS /RAM deducting 1.25% more weight off the fishermen’s QS on the first load that has been weighed head on and processed than the final weight the processor got when the fish were re-weighed head off, which is the weight basis for paying fishermen, which amounts to a $900 difference on a 6,000 pound delivery (of course the fishermen expects to be paid based on what came of his quota but the processor can’t really afford to pay for fish he doesn’t have).  While once thought workable, folks are thinking differently now. 

While no specific solutions are being offered – the IPHC has reminded us that this requirement is to provide a better estimate of total removals of Pacific halibut to improve management of the stock. This requirement removes any bias introduced by the variation in head cuts among ports/processors and provides a consistent coast-wide approach for catch accounting.

(Photo: Unidentified DFSU Brother and Koll Bruce on the Evening Star)

IPHC Annual Meeting

On my first day in the role of the Executive Director of the Deep Sea Fishermen's Union I found myself flying off to Victoria, British Columbia for the 2017 Annual Meeting of International Pacific Halibut Commission. I took as a good omen for things to come that while heading northward I spotted the "schooner fleet" docked at Fishermen's Terminal, located in Ballard's Salmon Bay 

- Jim Johnson | Executive Director | DSFU


The 2017 Annual International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) conference board was the classic epic contest between the various interests of 8 regulatory areas. Of course, Canada led the way sighting a huge discrepancy between IPHC survey results and the commercial Weight Per Unit of Effort (WPUE). Our Alaskan friends followed up with their own claim that for 2C, that the fish in area 2 swam back and forth between 2B and 2C and therefore 2C should get more than the existing sustainability benchmark (the “blue line”) as well. 

The IPHC introduced a new metric called the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR). It is a concept used in many other fisheries and not fully understood by many of us present at the conference board. As a result the "blue line" will be phased out and replaced by the SPR line. 

In this year’s decision table, the SPR lies below the "line formerly known as blue", which means greater catch recommendations by a couple million pounds. The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union held firm to its resolution to support “the Blue Line” across the board (total removals of 37.91 million lbs), causing some to label us "Debbie Downer.”

The conference board, as well as the processors board, settled at over 44 million pounds, far above the IPHC tipping point of 40 million pounds. Beyond 40 million pounds the risks of rapid decline in the halibut stocks increase significantly. North Pacific Fishermen's Association (Homer) joined us in our support of “the Blue Line” and though we were significantly outvoted, we were able to get a minority report included in the conference board’s final draft report, as well as a verbal statement to the commissioners themselves. 

There was a "mandated agreement" that catch amount motions made should not be put forth by anyone that does not fish in a particular area. The Fishing Vessel Owners Association (FVOA) did not involve themselves in the Area 2 fight and went with slightly higher numbers than “the blue line” from 3A west (an average between the blue line and the SPR line) which came fairly close to the 40 million pound tipping point.

The evening festivities included receptions put on by IPHC and the Halibut Association of North America, a good place to meet and greet the commissioners, scientists, processors, fellow Canadian fishermen and IPHC's new executive director Dr. David Wilson, former director of the tuna fleet. We were able to get our book in his hands and hopefully he reads it.

Our new Executive Director, Jim Johnson, experienced his first week on the job while attending the IPHC Conference. He came away impressed with the open, democratic and collaborative nature of the proceedings. While he was dismayed by the trawler bycatch figures and somewhat disappointed with any deviations from “the Blue Line” measure of sustainability, he was impressed with the leadership demonstrated by members of the DSFU and the FVOA in helping reach the decision of the Commission’s recommendation to the governments of Canada and the United States catch limits for 2017 totaling 31.40 million pounds.

- Jan Standaert | Vice-President |  DSFU