The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting all this week at the Hilton hotel in downtown Anchorage.
Naturally, The Highliner can’t resist hanging around the council, even on his days off. The fishing down there is just too good for a newshound like me.
Traditionally, the council’s December meeting is a biggie. It’s the time when the council recommends next year’s catch limits for valuable species such as pollock, cod, yellowfin sole and rockfish.
With well over a billion dollars of fish in play, it’s serious business, conducted amid the many company Christmas parties that rock the Hilton this time of year.
Anyway, here are three big issues the council is grappling with at this meeting:
FISH STICK FIGHT
Government scientists are recommending a Bering Sea pollock catch of 815,000 metric tons. That’s a whole lot of fish sticks, yet it’s an 18.5 percent cut from this year’s level – a big ouch for industry. Greenpeace wants an even deeper cut, and an end to the fleet’s longstanding practice of fishing on spawning stocks – that is, when the fish are full of valuable eggs.
Prediction: Don’t expect much drama here, as the council is likely to side with the scientists and set the limit at 815,000 tons.
KVETCHING OVER CRAB
Three years after the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fisheries were “rationalized,” the council will hear a review of how the reform is going. By rationalize, we mean dividing the harvest for king and Tanner crab into individual catch and processor shares, rather than having all players compete for a piece of the pie. The reform seems to have been a spectacular success in some ways. For instance, no one has died in the fisheries under this new management style. Still, rationalization has fervent critics. For example, advocates for vessel crewmen will try to make headway at this meeting toward gaining ownership of some of the catch rights. Right now, the rights belong almost exclusively to the boat owners. In general, the boat owners and crab processors are working at this meeting to preserve the status quo under rationalization.
Prediction: This issue will percolate a good while longer before we see any significant changes.
CUTTING THE COD
This is probably the hottest topic at this meeting. Because of rising competition for Pacific cod in the western and central Gulf of Alaska, and the instability and waste that such a situation creates, the council will attempt to divide the available fish among several sectors including boats that use trawl, longline, pot and jig gear, as well as boats that process fish at sea and those that simply catch the fish and haul them to port. Whoa, Nellie! This promises to be a good, old-fashioned fish fight as each sector looks to maximize its share. As council member Sam Cotten told me tonight, “This could get bloody.”
Prediction: The council is just starting to chew on this one, defining its options. Final action is months away at least.