ANCHORAGE - Greenpeace is taking to the airwaves to encourage a federal fisheries regulatory group to consider even more stringent catch limits on Alaska's pollock fishery - the nation's largest fishery.
The environmental activist group - better known for putting themselves between whales and whaling ships - began airing television ads on Tuesday in Alaska and Seattle. The ad, which will run through Friday, features a fisherman in yellow rain gear standing on a street corner in Los Angeles holding a sign that says "Unemployed: They Overfished the Pollock."
The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has recommended a commercial pollock catch limit of 815,000 metric tons in 2009, or a nearly 19 percent cut from 2008. A decision is expected next week.
The catch limit needs to be reduced to 500,000 metric tons at most, said George Pletnikoff, Alaska ocean campaigner for Greenpeace and a former commercial fisherman.
Pletnikoff said the model government scientists rely on to determine how many fish there are in the ocean is not working. Fishermen are having to go further to find pollock, he said. When they do, the fish are smaller, he said.
Pletnikoff said overfishing of pollock has led to declines in Steller sea lions and fur seals.
"Let's not destroy the goose that is laying the golden egg," he said.
Pollock is used mostly to make fish sandwiches, frozen fish sticks and fake crab meat.
The total allowable catch for Bering Sea pollock has steadily increased since the late 1970s, except for a few years when it dipped in the late 1990s. It reached highs of 1.4 million metric tons or more each year from 2001 to 2006.
Greenpeace warns that without deeper cuts, the Bering Sea pollock fishery will go the way of the collapsed New England and Canadian cod fishery.
"We know that is not true," said Jane DiCosimo, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council's senior groundfish plan coordinator. "There are no overfished groundfish stock in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska or Aleutian Islands. None are near being overfished."
DiCosimo said catch limits were reduced in 2007 and 2008 but are expected to rebound in 2010 if the number of young fish continues to increase.
The downturn was expected, said David Benton, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance in Juneau, a group representing commercial fishermen and processors.
"Despite this cyclic trend, the pollock resource is still healthy and it will remain healthy as long as we continue to follow our scientists' recommendations. That approach is why Alaska is respected around the globe as a model of fishery management," Benton said.
DiCosimo said in years when pollock are abundant, the council sets conservative quota limits to bank fish for the down years. There is no need to arbitrarily punish fishermen now, she said.
If anything, the lower catch recommendation for pollock shows what a good job government scientists are doing of managing the fishery, said Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, a trade association in McLean, Va.
"I don't hear anyone saying the Alaska pollock stock is about to collapse except for Greenpeace," he said.