New Federal Rule Aims to Reduce Wasteful Fishing

Juneau Empire – January 22, 1998

ANCHORAGE – A new federal rule that targets wasteful fishing has chased at least one boat out of the Bering Sea, and more may follow.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there are people who are going to be (victims) of the rule,” said Teressa Kandianis, who owns Kodiak Fish Co. with her husband, Mark. “I hope I’m not one of them, but I don’t know.”

The rule, which took effect this month, requires boats to keep all pollock and cod they bring on board, even fish too small to process into traditional products.

National Marine Fisheries Service officials claim the rule could reduce waste by as much as 75 percent in the North Pacific. The fleet tosses about 655 million pounds of what’s called “bycatch” overboard each year, mostly fish that are too small, the wrong gender or unwanted by seafood markets.

The requirement is the latest effort in the fishing industry to cut waste. Mounting interest by the public and concern for the future health of fish stocks are behind the rule.

The large factory trawlers and the boats that deliver catches to on-shore plants should have little trouble following the new law, fishery managers said. Both at-sea and on-shore processors have plants that can at least make fish-meal out of otherwise unmarketable pollock.

But for some smaller boats without that fish-meal equipment or the cargo space to handle the excess fish, the rule may be the line between business and bankruptcy, Kandianis said.

Seattle-based Scan Sea Ltd., which runs two boats called Prosperity and Tenacity, will be flooded with fish it can’t sell, said Carsten Pagh, a partner in the fishing company.

Prosperity has already pulled out of the North Pacific to fish off Mexico and Tenacity probably isn’t far behind, Pagh said.

As fishing starts this week, boats soon will find low-value pollock taking up valuable cargo space now used for pricier fish, said John Gauvin, executive director of Groundfish Forum, a group that represents much of the fleet.

The rule will require more frequent deliveries to empty the boat, adding to fuel costs. Processing pollock and storing the final product in a warehouse also raises costs, he said. There’s also the problem of finding someone who will buy that fish at a price to cover those expenses, he said.

Dorothy Childers, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, said the amount of fish that gets dumped overboard will decrease. But that may simply hide the waste. The law doesn’t provide an incentive to avoid catching those small fish in the first place, she said.

However, Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, maintains the law will spur boats to avoid unwanted fish. His group represents boats that deliver catches to on-shore plants and to larger factory trawlers. Processors probably won’t pay high prices for small fish that would have otherwise been dumped, he said.