Momentum Builds for Unalaska Bay Trawl Ban
Friday, January 25 2013
More than thirty people packed into the conference room at the Unalaska Public Library Thursday night to weigh in on a proposed trawl ban in Unalaska Bay.
Although the fate of the proposal will ultimately be decided by the state Board of Fisheries, the Unalaska Fish and Game advisory committee was tasked with adding their two cents at the meeting.
The committee ultimately voted 5-2 in favor of supporting the ban, but not before considerable public testimony and discussion.
Sylvia Ettefagh manages the Unalaska Fleet Cooperative, a group of pollock vessels that deliver to Alyeska Seafoods. She told the committee that when a similar proposal went to the Board of Fisheries in 2010, the pollock fleet had compromised.
“We think that coming to the table, making a compromise, is the same as making a deal. And we’ve kept our part, and we certainly ask that the small boats here do the same.”
The 2010 regulations closed the bay to fishing during June and July, and restricted it to the outer bay from August through October. Ettefagh pointed out that fewer vessels had been fishing in Unalaska Bay since then, and that they had been removing smaller volumes of pollock. Last year, according to numbers provided industry, trawlers caught just under a million pounds, compared to more than 3 million in 2009.
Supporters of the ban focused primarily on bycatch issues in their comments. Subsistence fisherman Brian Rankin expressed concern for the number of halibut removed from the bay by the trawlers.
“I’m taking 2010, just off the top for the bycatch, just because it’s the largest. 4683 pounds. If you’re saying an 8-pound average fish, that’s almost 600 fish. That is a lot.”
Numbers provided at the meeting by Fish and Game show the 10-year average for halibut bycatch is a 1000 pounds, or about a fifth of that. Other members of the public focused their comments on a more general “clean-up” of the Bay, and so did some committee members when they took up the discussion.
“I don’t that there’s enough data to be able to say that the trawl fleet alone -- the small trawl fleet alone -- is causing the problems that we’re seeing in the bay," Jennifer Shockley said. "But that being said, I think excluding trawlers would be a good first start to seeing the return of the health of the bay overall.”
But committee member and small boat fisherman Roger Rowland wasn’t convinced. He pointed out that halibut catches across the state have plummeted in recent years, and said he didn’t think the evidence was there to implicate the trawl fleet. Ultimately, he and committee member Don Goodfellow were the only dissenting votes.
The issue will be taken up by the Board of Fisheries during their meeting in February