by Hunter McIntosh
President, The Boat Company
Commercial fishing trawlers are large vessels that annually catch millions of cod, pollock, mackerel and flounder in big nets towed astern. In the process of catching these target species, trawlers intercept a large number of “non-target” species, like halibut and salmon. They are prohibited from retaining and selling these fish, called bycatch, because of their significance to other fisherman – typically small boat fishermen who use hook-and-line fishing methods to catch fish for their families and the local economy.
Trawlers are supposed to release this bycatch alive “if possible.” But that rarely happens. Instead, millions of pounds of dead fish are thrown back into Alaskan waters every year, contributing to the species’ decline.
Over the past decade, The Unalaska Native Fishermen’s Association (UNFA) has tried to reduce or stop this wasteful practice, arguing that the area had become severely depleted due to overfishing and it had become nearly impossible for local subsistence fishers to feed their families. However, commercial seafood operators have historically thwarted these attempts, arguing that they were tired of making concessions to local fishermen through restrictions in trawling processes.
Trawlers are supposed to release this bycatch alive “if possible.” But that rarely happens.
We are happy to report that the Unalaska Native Fishermen’s Association has finally prevailed. Late last month, the Alaska Board of Fisheries passed Proposal 194, which closes Unalaska Bay to commercial trawl fishing. This historic move will now give Unalaska Bay a chance to recover from the damaged done by overfishing by trawlers.
Here at The Boat Company, we applaud the end to this unsustainable fishing practice in Unalaska Bay. It has always been our mission to preserve and protect the land and waters of Alaska for locals who rely on them for sustenance, for the local businesses and the tourism industry that support the Alaska economy, and for the enjoyment of future generations.