Generally, TBC is concerned about all the fresh and salt water animals that become familiar to guests on board our cruises, namely: Pacific halibut, Lingcod, five species of salmon (King, Coho, Sockeye, Chum and Pink), common rockfish species (Yelloweye, China, Quillback, Copper, Yellowtail, Dusky and Black), Dolly Varden char, Rainbow trout, Cutthroat trout, Steelhead, Spot prawns and Dungeness crab.
There are immediate near-term conservation concerns regarding the viability of King (also known as Chinook) salmon and Pacific halibut. These species are subject to extreme harvest pressure from commercial and (to a lesser extent) sport fishermen. Halibut and Chinook are classed by fisheries managers as “fully utilized species”, which means that allocation formulas have been developed for dividing harvestable surpluses into fixed portions for all users, including commercial and sport fishermen. This type of management is intended to guarantee that diverse socioeconomic interests may be met while allowing adequate breeding populations to remain in the ocean for replenishing the stocks and keeping the ocean ecosystem healthy.
But additional pressure has recently been placed on halibut and Chinook stocks by bottom trawlers, which incidentally kill these species while primarily prosecuting commercial cod and Pollock fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska near Kodiak Island and around the Aleutians. Many hundreds of thousands of individual halibut and many tens of thousands of Chinook salmon are killed and discarded by US flagged commercial trawlers each year, causing concern for fisheries managers and everyone else who depends upon access to harvestable surpluses of these species.
Ironically, conservation concerns have also recently arisen over the impacts of rebounding populations of humpback whales and sea otters on these animals’ favorite prey species. Whales feed heavily on herring which are a critically important food fish for Chinook and Coho salmon, and sea otters are systematically depleting Dungeness crab populations as they recolonize Southeast Alaska bays and inlets after a two hundred-year absence. Though the viability of Dungeness crab stocks and some salmon runs in Southeast Alaska are now threatened because of otters and whales, finding solutions will be socially and politically challenging due to the public’s interest in protecting charismatic species…even though their populations are neither endangered nor threatened.
Actions to Date
With regard to bycatch concerns, TBC has become actively involved in both the US Federal and US/Canada intergovernmental fisheries management processes, attending meetings of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and International Pacific Halibut Commission, where we have submitted oral testimony and formal written comments regarding bycatch policies. We have also recently begun coordinating with non-trawl commercial fishing groups, sport fishing groups and other conservation groups in trying to find alternatives to current trawl bycatch policies.
TBC has gone on record in support of requirements for greater observer coverage on board more trawlers fishing in the Gulf of Alaska. We have expressed our support for a shared halibut allocation plan between commercial halibut longliners (not trawlers) and sport fishing charter businesses so that both sectors are allowed proportional increases or decreases in our harvest opportunities whenever fisheries managers either raise or lower the annual allowable halibut harvest amounts. When non-trawl commercial fishers, sport fishers and conservation groups come to realize we are all in this together, we will become a force-to-be-reckoned-with in challenging the powerful and well-funded trawl industry.
Fisheries policies in Alaska are developed through a complex process that includes Alaska State Boards, Intergovernmental Councils and official government agencies at State, Federal and International levels. While most marine species in Alaska of interest to commercial, sport and subsistence fishers are managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), two notable exceptions, halibut and salmon, are subject to US treaty agreements with Canada and are managed by the US National Marine Fisheries Service in cooperation with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The list of key organizations with whom TBC must interact in order to address conservations concerns include: National Marine Fisheries Service (a division of NOAA), Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, International Pacific Halibut Commission, North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, Alaska State Board of Fisheries and Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Conservation and public interest organizations with whom TBC is engaged in fisheries conservation issues include the Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee, Greenpeace, Oceana and Alaska Marine Conservation Council. In addition, there are numerous local or regional conservation organizations with which we may undertake short-term cooperative efforts to address fisheries conservation issues.
Associations with which we are involved include: Alaska Trollers Association, Southeast Alaska Seiners, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Halibut Coalition, Southeast Alaska Guides Organization and Alaska Charter Association.
Need for Future Action
We need to maintain a presence at fisheries management meetings and voice support for sound conservation principles and management strategies. We need to encourage managers to develop and use new technologies for determining the root causes of marine species declines, and then we must urge them to act decisively based on that scientific evidence, despite political influence by moneyed interests.