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Politics, not science, determines quotas for North Pacific groundfish harvesters.

Politics, Not Science, Determines Quotas For North Pacific Groundfish Harvesters

Scientists say it would have been okay to take 2.9 million tons of groundfish in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fishery last year, and 743,000 in the Gulf of Alaska -- but the total allowable catches were two million and 326,000 tons, respectively.

Peter J. Sandvig, director of marketing and sales for Emerald Seafoods, Inc., told the International Seafood Conference that the North Pacific Management Council originally set a two-million ton cap on Bering Sea groundfish in order to limit the catch of joint-venture operations and speed the Americanization of the fishery.

"This strategy was very successful; the joint venture operations were soon phased out, and the Americanization was complete. But the politically-determined total allowable catch (TAC) as opposed to the scientifically-determined allowable biological catch (ABC) is still the rule. And other factors also limit the ground-fish harvest.

Actual catch for 1991 in the Bering Sea fishery was 1.725 million tons, because of regulations that forbid further fishing for primary species once the by-catch of other species reaches its limit. Catch for pollock, for which the TACs were 1.404 million tons for 1990 and 1.385 million for 1991, decreased from 1.391 million to 1.358 million because of a change in the surimi recovery rate (from 18% to 15%) ordered by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Between shore-based plants, motherships and factory trawlers, domestic catching and processing capacity has more than doubled in the past two years to four million tons. There are now 64 factory trawlers and motherships (up three last year) and five major shore plants (up two). But the industry got nowhere when it requested more tonnage than the TAC.

Instead, what it got was a split pollock season -- the "A" season from Jan. 1. to the end of February, which was allocated 34% of the year's TAC, or 441,000 tons; and the "B" season, which opened June 1 and took the rest of the quota by Sept. 4. Now the North Pacific Management Council wants to do the same thing for 1992, but possibly reserve half the catch from the "B" season for shore-side plants.

By-catch limits this year will be the same as last year, meaning that sole and cod fishermen will have to quit when they reach the maximum halibut by-catch. Any species that exceeds 20% of the total daily catch is considered by-catch; crab, halibut, herring and salmon fishermen are all "concerned and very vocal" about the impact of trawlers on their fisheries -- and certified observers aboard trawlers watch like hawks for by-catch violations.

At press time, the North Pacific Management Council was planning to cut the 1992 TAC for pollock to as little as 900,000 tons, although the ABC is 1.421 million and an advisory panel recommended a TAC of 1.3 million. Cod and sole quotas are also being reduced, on account of high by-catches of prohibited species like crab and halibut -- the former from 229,000 to 180,000 tons, the latter from 135,000 (yellowfin) and 90,000 (rock sole) to 130,000 and 60,000 tons.

U.S. factory trawlers went after hake for the first time last year -- much to the annoyance of joint-venture vessels and shore-side plants. The ABC for hake is 253,000 tons, shared by the U.S. and Canada, with the former taking 80-90%. But the Council struck back by giving shore-side plants a preference for hake, so the factory trawlers will probably stay out this year -- and the season may be delayed to mid-April to let the fish grow more.

Despite the fact that TAC's are well below ABCs, a number of environmentalists want still lower catches -- one of their claims is that seals and sea lions will be decimated by any increase in the pollock catch, although studies suggest that the sea mammals actually prefer herring and capelin.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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