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 DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska, Aug. 31 /PRNewswire/ -- A revolutionary project now underway at the UniSea fish processing plant here could put millions of pounds of fish into food banks and set the stage for radical changes in U.S. fisheries management, UniSea announced today.
 Incidentally caught salmon that would otherwise be thrown away are now being delivered by pollock trawlers to UniSea and two at-sea processors where they are being frozen after heading and gutting. In a few weeks, the fish will be shipped to Seattle for distribution to food banks to help feed homeless families and other needy citizens.
 The experimental program, which began at the start of the Bering Sea pollock "B" season on Aug. 15, is a complete turnaround from the traditional approach to incidentally caught fish, also known as bycatch. In the past, and on boats not currently involved in the new program, all salmon accidentally caught by trawlers must be thrown back, even if dead. Both salmon and halibut are officially considered "prohibited species" for trawlers and mandatory discarding is the general rule.
 Halibut is not included in this initial program, although there is considerable halibut bycatch in the trawl fisheries. The International Pacific Halibut Commission rejected a proposal that would have included any retention of incidentally caught halibut in this pilot project.
 Twenty-one vessels are participating in the new salmon bycatch retention program. Fourteen are delivering to the UniSea plant, five deliver to the Excellence, an offshore processor, and one boat, the Brown's Point, is a catcher/processor.
 The experimental fishing permit that allows this program to proceed was granted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to Terra Marine, a private, non-profit organization based on Bainbridge Island, Wash. The NMFS permit followed approval of the program by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC). Terra Marine will oversee the entire project and make sure that all elements meet the terms and conditions set up in the permit.
 One important element is the distribution of the fish. The commercial seafood industry is concerned about competition from fish that would otherwise not be on the market. Therefore, a strict coding and accounting system will ensure that all fish are used exclusively for non-profit hunger relief programs. Seattle's Food Lifeline, a member of the Second Harvest National Food Bank Network, will distribute the fish. Terra Marine and Food Lifeline have already worked together distributing illegally caught Pacific ocean perch this past winter.
 Tuck Donnelly, a former fishing vessel manager and Terra Marine's coordinator, has long opposed mandatory discards. After much consideration, he approached the NPFMC about a year ago and proposed a bycatch retention program.
 Dick Pace, UniSea president, is also committed to bycatch retention. He has been urging the NPFMC for several years to change the mandatory discard policy. "It's absolutely criminal to throw anything back once you've caught it," said Pace. "I believe in a policy of 'You catch it, you keep it.'
 "The council has been wringing its hands for years about the bycatch problem," Pace continued. "The answer is simple: No discards. And if it's salmon or halibut, you shouldn't make any money from it. In fact, the bother and expense of handling and processing the fish will work as a disincentive to catching it in the first place."
 Donnelly is anxious to see the program grow and include incidentally caught halibut. He points out that 16 million pounds of dead halibut was discarded at sea last year by both trawlers and hook-and-line fishermen. "This is an incredible waste," he said. "We really ought to be making better use of the resource than that."
 Donnelly points out that bycatch retention is not a biological issue. All bycatch is monitored and included in annual fishing quotas. Most fisheries have a bycatch quota and once that quota is reached, the fishery is stopped whether the direct harvest quota has been achieved or not.
 "I hope this pilot project is a stepping stone to a much more meaningful program," said Donnelly, "one that includes all types of boats all across the country. We believe bycatch retention will work and that this project will demonstrate that.
 "One of the great things about this is the support from fish companies like UniSea and many individual fishermen. Most people in the industry are uncomfortable throwing fish away and welcome an opportunity to break the old taboo of bycatch retention."
 Food Lifeline is also excited about the program. Agency officials say the need for food is growing while the supply is diminishing. "But a source of wonderful high protein food from the fishing industry will be very helpful and much appreciated," said Food Lifeline's Jean Carpenter.
 The experimental fishing permit expires next April. By that time, advocates of bycatch retention hope to have a permanent program in place.
 -0- 8/31/93
 /CONTACT: Dick Pace of UniSea, 206-881-8181; Tuck Donnelly of Terra Marine, 206-842-3609; or Bruce Buls of McKnight & Co., 206-464-0884/

CO: UniSea Inc.; Food Lifeline ST: Alaska, Washington IN: SU:

IC-JH -- SE010 -- 7667 08/31/93 17:15 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Aug 31, 1993

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