GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Fishing Industry Stories

November 13, 2009

Alaskans' visit spotlights differences in fisheries

Coming across country, two Alaskans describing their deep, different and varied experiences in the nation's newest, biggest volume and value fishery also underscored how different their catch share system histories are from the one the New England groundfishermen have to look forward to.

Amendment 16, now published for comment, would, if approved as written, institute split system for the groundfishery — with one segment of the industry working off shares that are pooled in harvesting cooperatives while the independents continue to work in a continuation of the preexisting effort control approach — only with ever less effort allowed.

Both representatives who visited here Wednesday evening — with The Gloucester House a middle stop on a speaking and question-answering tour that started Tuesday in New Bedford and ended yesterday in Portland — readily agreed that Alaska has nothing like the mixed stock New England groundfishery, which has been operating in the Western Atlantic for half a millennium.

Scale and scope were cited as fundamentally different.

Alaska's 2007 output was worth $1.5 billion from the immense Bering sea industry scale fishery and the small boat-oriented Gulf of Alaska. In contrast, Gloucester boat price totaled $48 million in 2007, and even with New Bedford's scallop crop, the co-capital of the Ocean Nation grossed $268 million.

In addition, Alaskan catch share systems have been applied to far simpler fisheries than the multi-species complex of New England. And according to the industry officials, Steve Minor and Joe Childers, the decision to radically ration fisheries in Alaska was made by industry and the communities, with much of the structuring and restructuring done in the private sector — bottom up, as they put it — to save collapsed or collapsing fisheries.

In all cases, failing fisheries were resurrected by allocating catch shares, creating a market for them, steps that allowed marginal participants to exit while capacity was concentrated. But that, again, is different from New England.

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