The Alaska Board of Fisheries on Dec. 10 voted to take no action on a proposal to require 100 percent observer coverage on groundfish trawl vessels in state waters of the Cook Inlet, Kodiak and Chignak management areas of Alaska.
The proposal will, however, also be considered at the board’s Kodiak finfish meeting, Jan 7-11 at Kodiak’s Harbor Convention Center.
Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Cape Barnabus Inc. and Ouzinkie Community Holding Inc. proposed the measure, noting that trawl fisheries currently operate in the Central Gulf of Alaska under the restructured program with 13 percent to 15 percent observer coverage.
With halibut and Chinook salmon stocks in decline and declines in available harvest for Tanner crab fisheries, accurate information on the number of these species caught as bycatch in the trawl fisheries is critical, and current levels of coverage do not ensure that bycatch is accurately estimated, they said.
Proposal sponsors said users of Chinook salmon, halibut and Tanner crab would benefit from having better information about the level of bycatch in groundfish fisheries. The information would also benefit the state and groundfish fishermen, who would have more accurate information about their catches and bycatch, they said.
No one, they said, would suffer. “Those who find the 100 percent observer coverage requirement overly burdensome can choose to fish in federal waters and be subject to the federal observer program which does not require 100 percent coverage at this time,” the proposal said.
AMCC, a non-profit representing fishermen, subsistence harvesters, marine scientists and small business owners, had sent a letter on Dec. 5 to the fisheries board, saying such increased observer coverage is desperately needed. Observer coverage under the federal observer program is insufficient to provide accurate data, and action to require 100 percent observer coverage in state waters should not wait for the development of a catch share/comprehensive trawl bycatch management program, AMCC said.