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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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A Panel Discussion on Fisheries Management in the Bering Sea

Summary by Julia O'Malley

On Saturday, August 11 there was a panel discussion in Dutch Harbor about the different issues relating to fisheries management in the Bering Sea.

After an introduction by David Policansky, Paul Larson, the mayor of Dutch Harbor, introduced Frank Kelty, former mayor, long-time commercial fisherman and current natural resource analyst for the city. Kelty cited numerous statistics to show how Unalaska has used its lucrative commercial fishing industry to help strengthen the town. He predicted that with current resource management, fisheries would remain productive. " Unalaska has been a long-time proponent of conservation and sustainable fisheries on the Bering Sea," Kelty said. " Economy of our community depends on it."Kelty went on to reference the Steller Sea Lion case, brought by conservation groups against the National Marine Fisheries Service that forced restriction of pollock fishing to protect endangered sea lion populations. This, he said, was an example of poor resource management. "The City has been active about supporting research in the North Pacific for Steller Sea Lions, we support sound science," he said. "We don't support resource management that is based on lawsuits, personal agendas or unsound scientific research."

fish panel

Participants in Dutch Harbor fish panel discussion.
Click image for a larger view.

The next panelist was Stephanie Madsen, vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association. She discussed the changes in the fishing industry in Alaska over the last few decades, stressing that the industry has moved progressively toward conservation. "Alaska is the only state that says that fish should be harvested by the sustainable yield principal," Madsen said. She referenced the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries and Conservation Act, that sets down the rules and regulations for fisheries management in the US Exclusive Economic Zone. The Act requires that fisheries be managed in a sustainable way. "The fishing industry understands that times have changed," she said, " As time goes on you see more and more resources spent on sustainability."

Shirley Marquart of the At-Sea Processors Association talked about mid-level trawlers, boats that drag nets through the water, process and freeze their catch. "Trawlers have gotten kind of a black eye in the press," she said. "There is a myth that just because they are big, they are bad." Marquart went on to say that trawling was one of the cleanest forms of fishing. "Imagine, these boats catch enough for fish to fill this room and ooze out of the windows," she said, "Federal observers can come and collect their by catch in a couple of little blue buckets." Marquart concluded her argument, urging a different attitude toward commercial fishing. "People talk about how much commercial fishing takes from the water, but one of the major question I think needs to be answered is, 'what about all that's left?'"

The next speaker was Emil Berikoff of the Unalaska Native Fisheries Association. He said, "Aleuts have been the original conservationists. We have been taught to take only what we need and share the rest with our neighbor. That's what's called subsistence." He spoke against the Individual Fish Quota system that splits total allowable catch between participating fishermen, rather that allowing them to compete. "With IFQs, it's like this boat is 4 hours away from port and they only give you one gallon of gas, "he said.

The next speaker was Bob Storrs of the Alaska Marine Conservation Coalition who began his talk by saying that most of the pro-conservation moves the fishing industry has made are because AMCC pushed them to do so. He also countered Marquart's statement about trawlers being clean. "I've fished just about every fishery in this town and I can tell you that trawling, if done improperly, can be real dirty." He continued, balancing his pro-conservation statements with criticism of the conservationist who brought the Sea Lion suit, saying that they left and didn't try to "help take care of the people left homeless by the house they burned down." Storrs went on to discuss his concerns about the execution of the rationalization system where officials decide who can take fish and who much fish can be taken. "We see a real threat made under the guise of rationalization," Storrs said. "Fish don't belong to big companies, they belong to the United States of America and, if you will, God.


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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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