Bycatch will continue to dominate Alaska headlines as more people and lawmakers engage like never before. The increased awareness can be credited in great part to one man from Homer.
“So if we don’t step up and keep an eye out for it now, who will? It seemed like all the Alaskan resources were infinite for so long, but now we’re coming up to to where fisheries are being shut down. It’s either step up or step out of the way, I guess.”
David Bayes is a longtime charter operator who says the waste of fish and habitat damage by trawlers made him step up.
He’s used social media to educate more Alaskans. His and co-host/founder Jody Mason’s Facebook page “STOP Alaskan Trawler Bycatch” is nearing 18,000 followers in just a few months. Many point to what they call hypocrisy in fishing regulations.
“One example was where a whale watching boat gets fined $10,000 for coming within 100 yards of an Orca, but then the trawl fleets can scoop them up.”
Bayes uses fishery managers own numbers to make his points –
“Every week, typically, they update and you can just click and see what the new info is. But I don’t think a lot of people have done that. Because once we started to post those numbers, we’d run into trawl captains and crews and members of the NPFMC or people affiliated with the NPFMC that would say I was crazy. And those numbers couldn’t be – they’re too huge. And then you show them the link and say, well, those are your numbers.”
Bayes also has exposed how catch overage numbers often don’t add up –
“An example of that from this year was in the Bering Sea AFA catcher processor trawl fleet that had been about 5 million pounds over its Pacific Cod quota goal. And then just a couple of weeks ago, they switched the numbers around and essentially erased that overage on paper. And you can see this progression through the year that these guys are past their cap, and this week, they’re another 10,000 pounds past their cap, and are we going to do anything about it? But that got kind of funky when they started to adjust those quotas. Every week, it was going negative, negative, negative, and then they sort of reallocated and erased that.”
It was Bayes who pointed out that Bering Sea trawlers can take more crab as bycatch this season than the crab fleet is allowed, even in the red king crab fishery that is closed for the first time in 25 years.
He knows trawl gear is not “going away” but Bayes says it’s time to “tap the breaks.’ Stakeholders need to come with better fishing solutions like other states and countries have done, he says, before it’s too late.
“It’s gotten again and again to where the council system has said, Okay, we’re going to shut directed fisheries but the trawlers can’t help it because of the gear type. They have to have this quota. That just does so much to prevent the stocks from ever bouncing back. They’ve shut off directed fisheries, but the trawl fleet keeps hammering it a little bit at a time and the small local boats just kind of sit there and twiddle their thumbs and wait.”