GUEST COMMENTARY: State is committed to helping coastal fishing communities
I read with interest a recent guest editorial penned by long time Adak fisheries advocate Clem Tillion regarding the need to take immediate actions to protect Alaska’s residents and coastal communities to ensure for their economic viability. The insinuation is that not enough is being done.
Let me begin by saying that the State of Alaska is committed to developing fisheries management policies that benefit Alaska residents and coastal communities. We recognize the unique challenges faced by fish harvesters and processors operating in remote Alaskan waters and are committed to finding solutions. The state has worked closely with our management partners over the years to develop programs that provide economic benefits and stability to fishery-dependent communities in Alaska.
Specific to Adak, the state has actively participated in the development and implementation of several fisheries management actions to promote economic opportunity. For example, the Alaska Board of Fisheries established the Aleutian Islands Subdistrict Pacific cod fishery in 2006 to provide economic benefits to Adak.
In 2018, the board took action to increase the state-waters Pacific cod guideline harvest level to provide more harvesting opportunities for Alaskans and more fish delivered to Adak. The board action increased the amount of Pacific cod allocated to the state waters fishery from 27 percent to 31 percent of the total allowable Aleutian Islands removals for 2019 and 35 percent for 2020.
The overall state waters allocation could increase to a maximum of 39 percent in subsequent seasons if 90 percent of the guideline harvest level is taken in 2020. In March 2019, the Board of Fisheries again acted to benefit Adak by authorizing a Western Aleutian District Tanner crab fishery under the authority of a commissioner’s permit.
The state also supported several management actions in federal waters off Alaska to support Adak. A 2004 congressional action allocated Aleutian Islands pollock to Adak in order to promote a local, small boat pollock fleet to deliver fish to Adak and further develop the local fisheries-based economy. While several challenges have prevented Adak from realizing the benefits from its pollock allocation, the state supports continued efforts to fulfill Congress’ intent to benefit fisheries development in Adak.
In 2005, the state supported action by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and Congress to allocate 10 percent of the Western Aleutian golden king crab to Adak and require 50 percent of the Western Aleutian golden king crab allocations to be processed in Adak.
These measures were implemented as part of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Crab Rationalization program and intended to aid in the development of seafood harvesting and processing activities within the community. In 2010, the state actively supported council action to authorize Adak to purchase and hold commercial halibut and sablefish quota to provide fisheries access for a local fishing fleet and benefit the community.
Finally, the state strongly supports the council’s most recent action, known as Amendment 113, to provide opportunity for trawl catcher vessels, onshore processing plants, and communities, including Adak, to sustain participation in and receive benefits from the Aleutian Islands Pacific cod fishery.
The 2018 and 2019 fishing seasons demonstrated that Amendment 113 worked as intended for Adak by providing deliveries of Pacific cod to keep the plant operating and the associated benefits flowing to harvesters and the community. The state was disappointed by the March opinion in the Washington, D.C., District Court that vacated the regulations for Amendment 113.
We are actively working with our management partners, the Alaska congressional delegation, and our legal advisors to pursue all available options to reinstate Amendment 113 regulations and/or develop new regulations that benefit Adak and other Aleutian Islands shore plants. Unfortunately, immediate solutions are constrained given the court decision.
The record is clear. The state has well documented history of taking actions to help ensure the continued viability of this remote community. We will continue our efforts as we move forward on issues that affect this and other remote Alaskan communities and Alaskan fishermen.
Doug Vincent-Lang is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.