By Margaret Bauman
Old wooden schooners, and the captains and crews that guide them through the longline fisheries of Alaska will gather in Seattle on Feb. 15 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association.
The celebration at the Museum of History and Industry is expected to draw upwards of 200 boat owners and their crews, associate members, major processors and outfitters of FVOA longliners for a night of dining, dancing and stories about adventures in fishing aboard some of these sturdy old vessels.
“They roll a lot and they pitch, but you don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to come back or not,” noted Marvin Gjerde, a FOVA trustee and owner/operator of the F/V Tordenskjold, one of several vintage schooners featured in the organization’s historic video, online at www.fvoa.org.
The Tordenskjold competes head to head with modern boats on the Alaska fishing grounds, and Gjerde, who has owned and operated the vessel since 1979, says he still makes a good living in this fuel efficient, easy to operate vessel.
Initially a large group of halibut fishermen and salmon seiners organized together, but then it was felt that the halibut and salmon seiners “needed separate organizations, so we split off from them, “ said Bob Alverson, who has served as manager of FVOA since 1979. “We had 170 members at the time, mostly schooner type boats. They were all halibut schooners.”
Their mandate was to represent the needs of halibut boat owners involved in longline fishing in the North Pacific.
Members of the FVOA today are longline fishermen targeting halibut, sablefish, Pacific cod, rockfish and turbot.
Current concerns of the FVOA include the incidental harvest of non-targeted species and observer programs, Alverson said.
“We are very concerned with black cod and halibut resources,” he said. “Directed fisheries need to be cut back to build those resources. We are moving toward pots for black cod because of whales eating black cod off of the longlines,” including orcas in the Bering Sea and sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska. The whales, which are attracted by the hydraulics when the boats are in motion, have so far not figured out how to rip the harvest from the conical pots, he said.
As for the observer program in the Gulf of Alaska, Alverson said the FVOA feels everyone should pay into it, but that the program design needs some tweaks.
“In Alaska fisheries in general, the commercial fishermen pay for 100 percent of observer coverage, but in other parts of the country the federal government helps pay for the observer program as well,” he said. “Electronic observance should be part of the mix, and I the smaller boat fleets, we need to develop that as a mechanism to get a handle on total catch mortality.”