Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Southeast Alaska Seiners Struggling With Salmon Observer Program

Commercial harvesters in the Southeast Alaska salmon drift gillnet fishery, mandated for observation under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, say changes are needed in the program because it’s disrupting their fishery.

“It’s just a colossal waste of money,” said B.J. King, a veteran commercial fisherman from Kent, Washington. “They’re not telling us what they’re really after.

“I was observed twice this year, and it wasn’t a very pleasant experience,” he said.

Having somebody operating a small vessel 10 feet off the back of your boat when you are trying to clean the net off, counting fish and following you to the tender, it’s irritating, he said.

Kathy Hansen, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, said her organization hasn’t taken a position for or against the program yet, but there are lots of things she would like to see changed.

One issue, said Hansen, is that other fisheries required to be included in this program are being observed for two years, but the National Marine Fisheries Service is looking at doing Southeast Alaska over a period of six to eight years, because the area is so big and spread out.

Bridget Mansfield, the NOAA coordinator of the marine mammal observe program, based in Juneau, said that NOAA does not want to overly burden the fishermen.

“If this fishery is clean, we are not going to impose any restriction on what they are doing, so we want to have the documentation that says we don’t need to do anything. We really need to find that balance,” she said.

For any fishermen with concerns about the program, Mansfield can be reached at 1-907-586-7642 or at

Mansfield is to meet with representatives of the commercial fleet in Juneau on Dec. 3, in conjunction with a board meeting of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters, said Tom Gemmell, executive director of the organization.

“We’re hoping they can reduce it to three years,” Gemmell said. “2012 was the first year for districts 6 and 8.” Plans are to do districts 11 and 15 next for two years and then the Ketchikan area for two years.

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