CDQ group ties nets to bycatch, reallocation ‘statement’
Editor’s note: The following article was first published in the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
A community development quota group is giving away fishing nets to subsistence salmon harvesters in its member villages, but only if they sign an “acceptance statement” that defends its chinook salmon bycatch record in Bering Sea Pollock trawl fisheries.
The statement also calls for a general reallocation of fish stocks among the six CDQ groups, which drew an extremely harsh response from another group.
“For Coastal Villages to be doing this now, it’s very immature. It’s very shortsighted. It’s very mean-spirited. It’s very greedy,” said Larry Cotter, executive director of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association of the reallocation proposal on July 11.
Coastal Villages Region Fund, one of six CDQ groups along the Bering Sea coasts, launched the program at the request of the Association of Village Council Presidents after a Department of Fish and Game emergency order changed the river gillnet mesh size in response to low Chinook salmon returns.
At about $100 each for the 60-fathom long nets, excluding floats, lead line and other parts, 100 nets were distributed through early July with 140 more coming from suppliers, according to Dawson Hoover, CVRF program manager.
Hoover defended the statement as part of an educational campaign to marshal support for the congressional action needed for the reallocation.
The head of the AVCP said in the context of a subsistence fishery already being restricted because of poor chinook returns requiring the statement was improper.
“For them (CVRF) to have to have them (net recipients) sign it the way it was seemed like coercion,” said Myron Naneng, AVCP president, July 9.
The three-paragraph “subsistence net acceptance statement,” followed by the subhead “Please Read Carefully,” does not pledge the signer to any action or position.
The first two paragraphs, headed “Salmon Bycatch Issue,” explain that CVRF “earns its funds” from the Bering Sea pollock fishery and that “the best available science shows that the pollock fishery is not a significant contributor to our salmon problems nor can it solve the problem, even if the pollock fishery were entirely shut down.”
“Using 320 Chinook salmon, CVRF caught 106 million pounds of pollock worth $59 million for our region,” the statement continues, paying for more than 1,000 jobs for regional residents in salmon, halibut and other fishing and processing operations.
The 320 “used” chinook is a reference to the bycatch by CVRF vessels in the pollock fishery. Unlike halibut bycatch in Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries, the chinook are donated to Alaskan food banks.
The statement also notes that the pollock fishery “has co-existed with our subsistence and commercial chinook fisheries since 1964.”
Hoover said the statement is part of CVRF’s ongoing “Pollock provides” educational effort, also including regional newspaper ads and commentary in its newsletter and online publications.
(The Coastal Villages “acceptance statement” is online at tinyurl.com/c34llw4.)
Naneng said the net giveaway was “a good thing,” but rejected the claim that CVRF’s bycatch didn’t contribute to declining chinook returns.
“That’s the thing that I think they need to turn around and say we know we can be part of the solution,” Naneng said.
He noted that CVRF was the only CDQ group supporting the higher bycatch limit when the 2009 cap of 60,000 was approved by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Hoover said CVRF has no plans to use the signing statements in any way except to help its village residents understand that “Pollock provides” most of their income. He also said he’d heard of only one complaint over the acceptance statement from a harvester and wasn’t sure whether the person had signed.
“We’re trying but these are the facts and we’re getting better at telling the story,” Hoover said.
CVRF’s salmon and halibut operations, including prices to commercial harvesters, are “heavily subsidized” by revenues from its pollock harvests and “it’s been that way for a long time,” Hoover added.
CVRF’s heavy dependence on its pollock revenues is part of the need for adjustment of quota shares among the six groups. Since the program’s origin portions of the Bering Sea crab, halibut, cod and other commercial fish stocks have been given to the CDQ groups, but portions haven’t been changed since 2006.
“There were a lot of politics in the allocations and now we’re trying to fix that. We have the highest need” Hoover said.
The statement’s third paragraph, headed “CDQ Allocation Issue,” ends, immediately above the signature line, with the statements: “Please join CVRF in seeking ‘Fair CDQ Allocation Based on Population.’ Each of us from the Kuskokwim is just as important as our brothers and sisters in St. Paul or out the chain in Atka or up the coast of Emmonak. We are not second class citizens to them.”
St. Paul Island, with a population of 497 in the 2010 census, is, alone, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association CDQ and Atka is one of eight villages in the Aleutian Pribilof Island CDQ. With 20 villages and a cumulative population of 9,300 residents CVRF has the smallest harvest quota on a pounds per capita basis.
Cotter agreed that “politics reigned” in CDQ quota allocations until the late Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young froze allocations at their current levels with a 2006 program amendment that allowed the groups to make long term financial plans based on stable allocations.
“That put to an end a war, in essence, that had occurred between the six groups over allocations,” Cotter said.
He noted that CVRF is now the largest and wealthiest of the six groups said allocations based on population, “could come close to killing the three smaller groups. I don’t understand what type of philosophy would drive an organization like Coastal Villages to seek to destroy other CDQ groups based on need.”
Cotter also predicted the CVRF reallocation push will fail.
“There is no way our congressional delegation is going to let this happen. There’s not a chance in hell this is going to happen. That’s another reason this is stupid,” he said.
CVRF sent a group to Washington, D.C., in March to make its case with Alaska’s congressional delegation for quota reallocation through an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act.
“They realize it’s a problem and they’re acknowledging it’s a problem. I don’t think they’re ready to say they’re supportive,” Hoover said of the delegation.
At a July 6 news conference following a visit to the region, Sen. Mark Begich agreed.
“We haven’t taken a position on it but we’ve asked for them to be prepared as we move down this path as the chair of the oceans committee that has jurisdiction over this hearing,” he said.
Begich said CDQ reallocation will be “one topic that will be put on the table for discussion” in hearings he plans to begin hearings on the overall reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens next year, but nothing changing the act will move out of the committee this year.
“We are not interested in opening that act up, especially this year because of all the political controversy, the elections and all that, “ Begich said. “We want to be careful to be very frank, that our friends in Washington and Oregon that don’t see this as an opportunity to start managing our fisheries again.”