“Of the many challenges facing community-based fishermen today…the most formidable is access.”

With the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act going on in Washington this fall, we’ve reached out to friends and partners for some perspective on fisheries management around the country. 

We chatted with Rachel Donkersloot, the Working Waterfronts program director at the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. She filled us in on their priorities and successes, along with what she keeps in her jacket pocket for trips to the beach. 

NAMA:  The Magnuson-Stevens Act is an important piece of fisheries management legislation and it’s up for reauthorization this fall. What would you say are the three most important ways the Act can be modified to shape fisheries policy going forward? 

RACHEL: The Magnuson-Stevens Act lays the foundation for sustainable fisheries in our nation. AMCC has been closely engaged in MSA reauthorization since our inception nearly twenty years ago. Working with fishermen in Alaska and other groups across the nation, important strides have been made for both conservation and community protections under the law. 

In this round of reauthorization we will continue to push for precautionary, science-based fisheries management. We also think that progress can and should be made in strengthening community protections in limited access privilege programs (catch share programs), further minimizing bycatch and improving ecosystem-based fisheries management decisions. 

Q: Your organization advocates for a stronger fisherman voice when crafting policy. Can you point to a fishery and set of policies where fishermen have been instrumental – and successful – in creating policies that work for the fishery? 

A: Kodiak jig fishermen in collaboration with AMCC recently achieved an important victory for maintaining access for the low-impact, largely community-based jig fleet. Working together, we were able to secure regulatory measures at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council level that led to the creation of the jig sector as the entry-level opportunity within the newly established catch share programs for Pacific cod and rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska. Our success was the creation of sector quotas for the jig fleet of up to 6% of the allowable cod catch and 2.5% of the pelagic rockfish catch. 

This is significant and unprecedented because the sector split allocates a percentage of the catch to the jig fleet that is potentially much higher than the fleet’s historical catch record. Certainly challenges remain but the jig fishery is working like it should. Last week I met a young fisherman from Kodiak who started jigging two years ago. He said, “All I needed was a $75 permit and two years of hard work.” This year he bought a 38 foot salmon seiner. Jigging provided the critical point of entry which allowed him to expand his fishing operation business into a profitable enterprise. 

Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge community-based fishermen face in the immediate term? What about the long term? 

A: Access. Of the many challenges facing community-based fishermen today I think the most formidable is access. Fishermen today face incredible barriers to entry due in part to catch share programs and other limited entry permit programs which tend to disproportionately impact local fisheries participation. 

In the last decade, local vessel ownership in Kodiak dropped from 710 to 452 vessels. Local commercial fishing permit ownership declined by 18 percent, from 1,646 locally owned permits to 1,279. Strong fishing communities are made up of working fishermen. How will these numbers change over the next decade? 

We have to think about who is going to hold fishing privileges for the resources surrounding us in the future and how this will impact the social and economic landscape of our harbors and homes. We’re with ya, NAMA. Who fishes matters. 

Q: Can strong conservation measures and thriving fishing communities 

A: The North Pacific is a leader in sticking to science-based catch limits. That doesn’t mean we’re immune to resource decline and environmental change, but it does play a meaningful role in the long-term health of our fishery resources, communities and economies. Alaska is blessed with abundant and diverse fishery resources. The incredibly productive marine ecosystems off of our coastline afford access to a diverse suite of fisheries which can help to insulate communities from the hardship that comes with strong conservation measures. 

The ability to shift to different species, gear types or fishing areas when confronted with management changes and variability in resource abundance means that we have avoided some of the painful decisions that fishing communities in the Lower 48 contend with on a more regular basis. That said, current Chinook salmon crises and declines in halibut in Alaska have been and will continue to be extremely challenging both from conservation and community views. 

Q: If you could be anyplace in the world right now, where would you be? And what kind of fish would you be eating?

A: I’d be on the back of a three-wheeler on the beach in Naknek, AK (my home community in Bristol Bay). I’d be pulling strips of smoked salmon out of my jacket pocket and watching the tide come in.