IFQs for cod, pollock trawl fishery on hold

In a battle that dates back to at least the Gov. Frank Murkowski administration, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council put on hold indefinitely any movement toward an IFQ program for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery for cod and pollock.

At its meeting earlier this month, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten put the brakes on the rationalization program after basically reaching an impasse with the trawler/processor group Groundfish Forum that was pushing for it.

At issue is generally the smaller trawl vessels in communities like Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove, versus the huge vessels based in Seattle.

With the crab rationalization program as a blueprint, smaller vessels see the Seattle fleet buying up and consolidating quota, leasing it to other large vessels, and smaller boats left rusting in port.

There is plenty of finger-pointing to go around. The large trawler vessel community blames the state for being inflexible, and the state had asked that community at a meeting in June to come up with some alternatives, which it declined to do.

A move by a council member to look at a system of Individual Bycatch Quotas, where each vessel has its own bycatch cap instead of one fleet-wide, was shot down.

Another member brought up the idea of a limited duration IFQ program, perhaps something as short as a year, but met resistance from industry members with concerns about it being too easy to see it become permanent with the stroke of a governor’s pen.

The state at this point seems fairly adamant about not bringing in a new IFQ program, and perhaps pulling that possibility off the table might allow some of the other options to gain traction.

For the moment, the trawl fleet is operating under a voluntary catch share plan which they manage themselves, which covers some fishing times, some quotas and fisheries, where they agree to limit themselves to their vessel capacity and bycatch limits.

That can be tenuous; it only takes one or two boats to decide not to participate.

However, some trawlers are wondering exactly what problem is needing to be fixed.

The fishery is not over-capitalized, the fleet is fishing 11 months per year, and is coming in under the bycatch caps for halibut and chinook salmon.

There are some tweaks that could be done to help reduce bycatch and sea lion interaction, but for the most part the fishery seems relatively successful as-is.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.