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Freezer Longliner Vessel Replacement Issues Face Final Action

 


Final action is scheduled at the October meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage on options to allow larger freezer longliners to harvest Pacific cod in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

Kenny Down, executive director of the Freezer Longline Coalition in Seattle, said in an interview Sept. 17 that he is hopeful that one of these options will pass the council with little objection. “It is long overdue… for safety reasons alone,” said Down, noting that some of the 25 active vessels in the fleet started out as military vessels in World War Two.

Such rebuilding and construction of new vessels, which would be subject to the highest US Coast Guard safety standards, would likely begin in 2013 and most of the fleet would be replaced over the next 15 years, Down said.

While it would not likely be hard to get financing for new vessels, at an average cost of $20 million to $30 million, “we are racing against the clock, because right now interest rates are low, he said.

Vessels operated by members of the Freezer Longline Coalition are currently based in Kodiak and Petersburg, Alaska, as well as Seattle, and operate out of Dutch Harbor. Down said he wasn’t sure where new vessel construction would like take place, but said options include Ketchikan, Alaska; Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and the Gulf Coast.

There are three alternatives before the council range for this fleet, also known as hook-and-line catcher processors, outlined in the council’s Sept. 7 analysis for a proposed amendment to the fishery management plan for the groundfish fishery in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

The council noted in the regulatory impact review/initial regulatory flexibility analysis that the goal is to change criteria to allow owners of Bering Sea and Aleutian Island vessels fishing for Pacific cod to replace or rebuild their vessels to a length greater than that specified under restrictions of the license limitation program and the American Fisheries Act.

Specifically, the council proposes to first adjust the maximum length overall specified on the license limitation program license assigned to these freezer longliners. Originally implemented in 2000, each license limitation program is endorsed for management areas, catcher vessel or catcher processor operations, and the Pacific cod fixed gear target fishery, and specifies a maximum amount overall for licensed vessels. Maximum length overall for the license was based on length of the vessel initially receiving the license.

The council also has proposed to allow freezer longline replacement vessels that exceed 165 feet in registered length or 750 gross registered tons, or with engines capable of producing more than 3,000 shaft horsepower, to enter the fishery.

Existing federal law currently limits such vessels from entering fisheries unless the vessel carried a fisheries endorsement prior to Sept. 25, 1997, or the council has recommended and the Secretary of Commerce has approved, a conservation and management measure to allow the vessel to be used in fisheries under its authority.

The council recognized in its problem statement on the freezer longliner issue that vessel length restrictions on limited liability program licenses limit the ability of owners to rebuild or replace their vessels with larger vessels. Providing this ability would allow for improved vessel safety, meet international class and loadline requirements that would allow a broader range of onboard processing options, and improve the economic efficiency of their vessels.

Alternative one is the status quo option. If approved, the BSAI Pacific cod hook and line catcher processor vessel length, horsepower and tonnage restrictions currently in place would continue to apply.

Details on these alternatives and other related issues are at http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc.

The Freezer Longline Coalition is a section 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation representing owners and operators of the vessels that participate in the freezer longline, or catcher processor hook-and-line sector of the Pacific cod fishery in federal waters of the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska.

The longline fishery is based in Alaska and Washington State, with freezer longline-caught Pacific cod marketed and sold in the Pacific Northwest. The coalition estimates that freezer longline-caught cod provides between $150 million and $200 million in annual export revenues to the nation. The fishery creates more than 1,200 full time jobs, has more than two dozen modern vessels with fish processing and freezing capabilities on board, and community businesses that repair vessels and sell supplies rely on this fishery to sustain jobs, the coalition notes on its website, http://freezerlongline.coalition.com.

The longline fishery is primarily a Pacific cod single-species directed fishery, and in fact over 90 percent of the longline fishery’s income derives from directed fishing for Pacific cod. The vessels participating in this fishery use specialized lines and individually baited hooks, as opposed to nets or pots, to catch fish.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at margieb42@mtaonline.net.

 
 
 
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