A persistent net of disinformation about our region’s fisheries has recently turned into a deluge. DNA carried the most recent example, an uninformed editorial comparing many of Alaska’s world-famous fisheries to fleets of “foreign pirates.” It is reminiscent of a campaign launched by Greenpeace against trawling earlier in my career. Like this campaign, the implication now is that because these are big vessels targeting huge fisheries, they are inherently bad.
Nothing could be further from the truth. For over 40 years, I have lived on the Alaskan coast, in communities that depend on fishing for their survival. I now work with the Capture-Processor fleet that participates in the Bering Sea pollock fishery in Alaska – the largest American fishery and the largest seafood fishery in the world.
Large is not bad. Rather, it is precisely because of the size and scale of this fishery that it is able to produce low-cost, low-carbon seafood that helps feed the world. Unlike Alaska’s more expensive seafood, pollock feeds millions of ordinary Americans, including those in need, through affordable retail and dining offerings, as well as through programs. national school lunch and food bank. It also serves consumers around the world, offering one of the most climate-friendly options of any widely available protein. Its CO2 equivalent per kilogram of protein is 3.77 kg – compared to 12.5 kg for chicken, 20.83 kg for vegetable meat and 115.75 kg for beef. All food production has an environmental footprint; we are proud that ours is one of the most modest of all proteins.
The implication that our fishery is destroying this region’s precious marine ecosystems is simply not true. Alaska Pollock has been certified as sustainable by independent certification bodies with some of the highest sustainability ratings of any fishery. All of our ships carry two federal observers who measure everything that happens on board. Everything we catch is documented and shared publicly. There is no more responsible and transparent fishery on Earth. We are proud to participate in the North Pacific fisheries management process, which invests heavily in climate science; strives to integrate local and traditional knowledge into the management process; and is known worldwide for its precautionary ecosystem-based management.
Let me address the issue of incidental captures. All fisheries encounter non-target species. Our fleet goes to great lengths to target pollock and avoid other marine life. As a result of these efforts, over 98% of what our vessels catch is pollock. As of 2010, we have had chinook caps that, if exceeded, would put an end to the fishery. This cap is lowered when returns from western Alaska are low. We have developed innovative methods to reduce accidental catch of salmon, including underwater cameras, salmon lamps and salmon grills. We have reduced our bycatch of chinook salmon by 89% since 2010. The salmon encountered by our fleet are conserved and sampled by federal scientists. As a result, we know that the majority of the chum salmon we catch comes from hatcheries outside of the United States. Given these facts, it’s no surprise that the science is making it clear that the incidental catch of salmon by our fleet is not the cause of the devastating reductions in some salmon returns we’ve seen this year.
Finally, the Western Alaska Community Development Quota, or CDQ, program inexorably links our fleet to the coast of Alaska: CDQ groups are partners or own our businesses, which means that pollock provides essential income to these communities.
In short, our fishery is an incredible environmental, social and economic Alaskan success story. I am proud to work with this fleet.
Stephanie Madsen has been involved in Alaskan fishing since arriving in Alaska over 40 years ago. She is the Executive Director of the At-Sea Processors Association and has lived in the fishing dependent communities of Cordova, Kodiak, Unalaska / Dutch Harbor and now Juneau, so she understands firsthand the importance of healthy fishing and sustainable for thriving communities.
After serving six years on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board, including four as President, she participated in the establishment of the Arctic Fisheries Management Plan, the Fisheries Ecosystem Plan of the Aleutian Islands and the design of catch-sharing programs in several fisheries. Madsen continues to serve the Board as a member of the Ecosystem Committee.
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