Fishing vessel crews in Western Alaska wrapped up a successful pot-cod season last month, building upon what’s become a mainstay winter fishery for an increasing number of Alaskan boats. Now that pots and gear are stacked and stored, we have time to look ahead at what comes next.
As a young skipper within the under-60-foot pot-cod fleet, I see first-hand the value Pacific cod offers to the state. Cod is one of the top-three pillars that resident fishermen build their success upon — alongside salmon and halibut. This species feeds a range of user groups and communities spanning the coastline, offering important winter opportunities and bolstering the statewide economy.
Most people tracking North Pacific news also know that many cod harvesters are tightening their belts after surveys showed a stock decline, particularly in the Gulf of Alaska. Observations on the fishing grounds this season indicate strength in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands stocks, but industry members and managers are watching all shifts closely, and responding for the long-term health of the resource.
Despite those ongoing challenges, Alaskan fishermen know a great deal of strength lies in the Pacific cod fishery, strength that gives me confidence in the future of this important resource.
This season, 32 boats participated in the fully-harvested Area O state-water pot-cod fishery near Dutch Harbor, a record number of participants. This effort is a testament to the success of this relatively new fishery, and the opportunity it represents. In Adak, under-60 pot vessels delivered local cod to an onshore processor throughout the season, an important development for in-region seafood production.
Both of these state-water fisheries represent an ongoing effort between the industry and decision-makers to bolster opportunity for Alaskan businesses and communities — and it’s working.
Roughly 85 percent of state permits, federal licenses and vessels in the under-60 pot-cod fisheries are Alaskan owned — more than almost any permitted fishery in the state, and significantly more than most cod-harvesting fleets. Not only owners, but most operators and crew are Alaskan residents, with boats homeported and serviced here in-state, and diversified into other fisheries supporting additional crews, production and services. These boats are thriving businesses entrenched in Alaskan communities.
We’re also seeing a trend of capable young skippers growing their skills and opportunities within the wheelhouses of this gritty fleet. Pot gear also has extremely low halibut bycatch, with non-existent salmon bycatch. In these and many other ways, this fleet shows capacity to serve as a cornerstone of Alaska’s community-based seafood businesses.
In response to the success and promise these vessels represent, participating fishermen formed the Under Sixty Cod Harvesters. I am proud to serve on the board of this new organization, representing members by engaging in federal and state processes impacting the health and management of Pacific cod. USCH is working closely with decision makers and community leaders to keep this fishery progressing as the vital economic engine it has become.
In the meantime we have forward-thinking state and industry leaders to thank for establishing state-water Pacific cod fisheries, providing opportunities for Alaska-based fleets and supporting businesses. Even with the modest allocation these state-water fisheries started with, they’ve already inspired important growth in boat construction, processing and fishing effort. Opportunities to nurture that growth have implications that reach beyond the seafood sector.
A recent University of Alaska report highlighted what growth in Alaska’s ship- and boat-building sector could mean for Alaska’s economy and long-term stability. Lower 48 businesses have typically conducted much of the manufacturing and vessel construction supporting Alaska’s fishing and shipping fleets. Boat-building in the U.S. is an $8.8 billion industry, but Alaska has only a few dozen businesses building vessels for our diverse maritime fleets. Efforts to build and service more vessels in state could provide for vital growth in jobs, state revenues and sustained economic opportunity.
Our thriving state-water fisheries and their vessels are fantastic tools for growing the Alaska economy through its fisheries and maritime industries. The Under Sixty Cod Harvesters look forward to serving an important role in that bright future.
• Trever Shaishnikoff is a lifetime Dutch Harbor resident and board member of the Under Sixty Cod Harvesters. He operates the F/V Commitment.