After plenty of back and forth between regulators, industry representatives, biologists, and fishermen, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has capped the amount of pollock that fisherman can catch in the Bering Sea next year at 1.2 million metric tons.
That’s a slight decline from this year’s quota. But for some members of the council, that number wasn’t low enough. Four of the eleven voting council members took the position that the total allowable catch should be set at 1.08 million metric tons, a 14 percent drop from 2011. Council member Ed Dersham said that the concern that some fishermen had expressed over the stock and their descriptions of slow fishing despite increased effort had persuaded him to favor a lower quota.
“I have to take into account compelling tacit knowledge that we heard from skippers. Not only did I hear it here in this public testimony, but I had calls before the meeting and I had comments from skippers and crew while we were in Dutch Harbor about this issue. Having had 28 years of experience fishing in the same fishery myself, that means a lot to me,” said Dersham.
Those in favor of a lower pollock quota also argued that lowering the quota could reduce the amount of chinook salmon bycatch, as fishermen wouldn’t be pressed to fish so late into the season.
However, the majority of the council favored the higher number that was recommended by the council’s science and statistical committee and the groundfish plan team. Council member John Henderschedt emphasized that their management decisions should come down to data, not anecdote.
“We have the prerogative to set [total allowable catches] in response to ecological, social, and economic factors, but we have an obligation to respond to the best available scientific information,” said Henderschedt.
The Eastern Bering Sea pollock fishery is America’s largest in terms of volume, and much of that fish is delivered to Unalaska. This year, the dockside value of the catch was approximately $330 million.