Fish, baby, fish

by George Pletnikoff

September 11, 2008

When the fishing gear, be they larger than football field sized nets that drag the oceans floor for fish, crab pots, longline fishing hooks, or other gear used to catch and kill fish, much more than fish are being destroyed. Lets look at one of them. The deep-sea trawlers that hunt and search for pollock and other flat fishes.

The first major commercial groundfish fishery in the Gulf of Alaska targeted Pacific Ocean perch. The size of the catch rose quickly through the early 1960’s until the resource was depleted.  The fishery then began targeting walley pollock. As happened with perch, the catch of pollock rose gradually through 1980 when a large spawning aggregation was discovered in the waters off of Kodiak Island. Over the next 5 years the spawning aggregation was heavily exploited and the fishery peaked and collapsed. (Trites 1991).

The same picture can be painted for these fisheries in the Bering Sea. Yellowfin sole catches rose from 1954 to 1961 until the stock declined due to overfishing. As the yellowfin sole declined, the fishery moved to pollock. (Trites 1991).

Now we know that the pollock fishery in the Kodiak waters, the Bogoslov Island waters, and the Aleutian Islands have either been shut down due to overfishing or their catchable amounts severely cut because of overfishing. So what’s new? Outside multinational fishing companies see an opportunity to exploit beyond reason, come into our waters and destroy. Sounds like a familiar tune when discussing other resources in our Great State? Oil and gas, minerals, forests, salmon populations and sadly, people.

Its beginning to sound like a problem that needs some serious attention from our state and federal governments. After all, our governments lay claim to represent all the people of both our State and Nation. Oh ya, we do have such oversight boards and councils. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Alaska Board of Fish (ABF) are legally charged with that responsibility. And to help in these processes, Advisory Councils are put in place to help give direction. NMFS has the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) and the ABF has regional advisory Councils. But guess what? The NPFMC and the ABF are stocked, not with fish, but with commercial fishing representatives and interests to make these decisions. And these councils and boards are ripe for the plucking. Industry lobbyists and lawyers often wine and dine these “representatives of the people’s resource” to get their quotas, no matter the science. And they often get their way. Take a quick look at the NPFMC’s web site and see who the Council members are and whom they work for.

“Drill, baby, drill” is not a new cry for resource development at any cost. In the 1980’s and 1990’s and up to this day it has been “fish, baby, fish” before there are no more fish to catch. With the problems of climate change, other animals’ populations crashing and people being dislocated, it is time to reappoint “representative” people to these councils and boards. Industry greed and ways of doing business has got to stop. There is a lot of talk these days about reform. If ever an industry needed reform, this is it.

Just last year, the NPFMC cut the total amount of pollock catch a whopping 24% from the year before! If that same amount of decline were done to, say, the oil and gas industries, you would hear a loud cry from the public. We need to pay close attention to the reasons for this kind of management of our resources. One of the reasons given for the drastic cut the pollock fishery took was lack of recruitment. Oh ya. I forgot to tell you that twice a year, millions of pounds of pollock roe, the caviar of the Bering Sea, is auctioned off to a hand full of “by invitation only” companies.
“Fish, baby, fish.”

This is the people’s resource put into the trusting hands of appointed Councils. We must hold them accountable. They work for us, not the industry.

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