Alaska Board of Fisheries backs proposed Dutch Harbor grab of Togiak herring quota

Dec 6, 2017

Board generated proposal 236 aims to shift three percent of allowable harvest of herring stock from Togiak sac roe fishery to Dutch Harbor food and bait quota. “I’m dumbfounded as to why they would circumvent the public process,” said Frank Woods, Togiak herring gillnetter and Nushagak Fish and Game Advisory chairman. 

Togiak herring.
Credit Tim Sands, ADF&G

A regulatory change proposed by Alaska’s Board of Fisheries would shift the dates of the Dutch Harbor food and bait fishery to align closer with the timing of the run, according to one of just a few seiners who participate. Proposal 236 would also end the specific allocation to a gill net fleet that does not participate anymore, a move no one has thus far objected to. But the board generated proposal, backed by Chairman John Jensen, would also shift three percent of the allowable harvest quota from Togiak to Dutch Harbor.

That is raising eyebrows as stakeholders closer to the Togiak stock involved learn about it.

“The public process is what I’m concerned about,” said Frank Woods, the chairman of the Nushagak Fish and Game Advisory Committee, and also a Togiak herring fisherman. “A board generated proposal from Bristol Bay stocks … we should have at least been [kept] abreast and then reviewed it, and had at least some public comment on it. You know, how it might or might not impact local ACs.”

The herring stock in question runs inshore near Togiak to spawn each spring, then is fished again in the summer when the fish show up near Dutch Harbor. The state manages for a 20 percent exploitation of the biomass; of that total allowable harvest, 1,500 tons is set aside for Togiak spawn-on-kelp, seven percent goes to Dutch Harbor food and bait, and Togiak seine and gill net boats fish the rest.

Proposal 236 began with a letter, dated Oct. 1, from Dan Veerhusen to the Board of Fisheries. (see PC026 here)

“Our family has participated in the Dutch Harbor food and bait herring fishery for over two decades,” Veerhusen, captain of the F/V Taurus, wrote. He pointed out some major problems he and the one or two other seiners have watched over several years, mainly with the herring timing. In 2016 the run was so early the fleet missed most of the quota, which “caused negative consequences not only to our fishing family’s bottom-line, but greatly affected the availability of local, Alaska-caught bait that is widely used in Alaskan fisheries such as crab, cod, halibut and black cod.”

State records show the two vessels brought in just 208 of their 1,863 tons that year. The same herring arrived record-early in Togiak that spring, but the local area management biologist can open the sac-roe fishery there by emergency order. The Dutch Harbor food and bait seine fishery opens by regulation on July 15, and only action by the ADF&G commissioner can alter that.

The food and bait fishery for the gill net fleet opens June 24, but it has been more than a decade since any participated. Proposal 236 seeks to eliminate the allocation of quota to gill netters, and allow the seiners to start by July 1, rather than July 15.

As to moving to grab three additional percent of the Togiak herring allowable harvest, Veerhusen argues Dutch Harbor should get a local preference over the state resource. 

“Much of the Togiak herring fishery’s harvest is shipped internationally, used for food product or fishmeal product. The Dutch Harbor food and bait herring fishery stays local and is used by local processors and fishermen,” he wrote.

It’s also considerably more valuable. Between 2006 and 2015, an average of two seiners fished, bringing in an average of 707 tons each, at an average price of $300-500 per ton. The state calculates each of those two seiners are bringing in an average of $281,000 per season, numbers the fledging Togiak fleet could only dream about these days.

Upon receipt of Veerhusen’s letter, it appears that Board of Fisheries chairman John Jensen tasked ADF&G with drafting what’s known as a board generated proposal. That then came before the board at an October work session, discussed for 11 minutes, and moved forward.  

Jensen, Reed Morisky, and Orville Huntington all claimed there was no “competing” interest involved, focusing only on the Dutch Harbor gill net fleet that hasn’t fished in a decade.

Fritz Johnson, a member from Dillingham, took issue.

“Without debating the merits of the proposal at this point, there may be a slight competing interest here for those who still fish the Togiak herring fishery,” he pointed out. “But we will have time to debate the particulars.”

The vote to formally create the board generated proposal was six to one, with Israel Payton dissenting.

Most regulatory changes are submitted on a timeline that allows them to be vetted first at the local level. But no Bristol Bay advisory committees had time to address proposal 236 during their fall meeting cycle, and were only learning about it in early December. Woods believes the Nushagak and Togiak committees would have offered the Board of Fish valuable comments to fill in their understanding of the local value of Togiak herring.

“That’s where I think the public process has been circumvented,” he said. “You have a handful of people allocating for themselves, and if that’s the case, I have a huge concern. I’m dumbfounded why the board would generate a proposal that would benefit a very few. Even though it is a small allocation, it’s huge as far as ex-vessel value goes.”

Public comments on proposal 236 are due by Feb. 23, and the Board of Fish will take it up for a vote at the statewide Dungeness crab meeting Mar. 6-9.

Woods said he may call the Nushagak AC together for a special meeting to discuss the proposal and provide comment to the board.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.