Unalaska Bay Trawl Closure Proposal Resurfaces
Thursday, January 24 2013
The Unalaska Fish and Game advisory committee will address a proposed ban on trawl fishing in Unalaska Bay at their meeting Thursday night. The controversial proposal comes from the Unalaska Native Fishermen’s Association or UNFA. President Vince Tutiakoff says the proposed ban is in response to several issues, starting with an observed decline in the abundance of other species in the bay, like salmon, halibut and crab.
“And we have seven or eight small boats that fish the bays and they have gear issues out here. Several of them have lost gear due to trawling. And, you know, replacement of gear for a small boat pretty much takes their season away.”
Pollock trawling is only allowed inside the bay between August and November. The proposed closure would make fishing inside a line from Priest Rock to Cape Cheerful off-limits year round. Tutiakoff says that area should be reserved for subsistence users and the small boat fleet.
“They go out there, they can get out where the pollock are. They don’t need to be in our bays, taking away the community use of whatever is there.”
The state Board of Fisheries has the ultimate say on the issue, and the proposed ban will be on their agenda in February regardless of what the Fish and Game advisory committee decides, but UNFA member Walt Tellman says getting the committee onboard is an important step.
“The Board of Fish takes their recommendations very seriously, so we hope to have some local folks show up and let them know it’s important to us."
This isn’t the first time the advisory committee has considered a proposal to close the bay to trawl fishing. In 2010, they brought their own version of the ban to the Board of Fisheries, where it was modified in committee to come up with the current regulations.
Brent Paine represents the trawl fleet through the organization United Catcher Boats. He says he’s disappointed that local fishermen aren't satisfied with the modified regulations.
“If you look through the proposal, if you look through the stated reason why they would like to have it closed, we just don’t feel those are... that you can substantiate some of the statements they’ve made.”
Specifically, Paine disputes the idea that the trawl fleet is impacting other species. He also says it’s much more likely that the gear conflicts are with vessel traffic passing through the bay than with the trawl fleet. He also objects to the notion that there are plenty of other places for the trawl fleet to fish.
“It’s kind of the issue of ‘death of a thousand cuts.’ There’s been, ongoing over the last decade or so, various proposals to close fishing grounds to the pollock fleet. So the cumulative impact of these small closures adds up.”
The fish harvested in Unalaska Bay is mostly processed by Icicle Seafoods aboard the Northern Victor, which is anchored in Beaver Inlet, and by Alyeska Seafoods.
The advisory committee meets at 6pm in the Unalaska Library conference room.