Alaska Fisheries Report January 6, 2022

On this week’s Alaska Fisheries Report: Indy Walton resigns from the Alaska Board of Fish, which has also postponed its next meeting. Plus a look at EEZs, MSA, and the National Standards.


Indy Out  Sabine Poux/KDLL

Soldotna’s Indy Walton has resigned from his seat on the state Board of Fisheries, the seven-member board that makes decisions about fish allocation and management in Alaska’s waters.

Walton says he’s dealing with a confluence of health issues that have been exacerbated by stress and a bout of COVID-19. While he thought he could balance those issues when he accepted Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s nomination in September, he says he’s since had to reconsider.

Indy 1 00:25 “I hoped when I accepted the position that things would be different and change as far as my schedule, and I didn’t realize some of the health issues that I was being faced with until after doing some tests. And I know now I’ve got to alleviate some of the stress and lighten my load a little bit. Which isn’t my style.”

He says his workload is another factor. Walton is a financial adviser with the Soldotna branch of Edward Jones.

Walton’s resignation caps a four-month tenure on the board, the Cordova Times first reported. Dunleavy appointed Walton to the seventh open seat last fall, after his previous nominee was rejected by the Alaska Legislature.

Walton lives in Soldotna and has roots in both the commercial and sport fishing sectors. He owns a sport fishing lodge in Igiugig [ih-ghee-AH-gig] and commercial fishes in Bristol Bay. He’s also an outspoken critic of the controversial Pebble Mine project.

In his time on the board, Walton attended one work session in Anchorage.

He says he’s frustrated he has to take a step back from the board now. And he might consider pursuing the position again if his situation changes down the road.

In the meantime, he hopes whoever takes his place can bring experience from multiple sectors.

Indy 2 00:15 “I would love to see somebody who has an open mind that can try to bring both sides of the commercial and sport sides of fishing together to work out some of the impasses that are currently at bay.”

Board of Fish Executive Director Glenn Haight [like HATE] says Dunleavy has 30 days to make a new appointment to the board. His office is now accepting applications for the three-year position.

Separately, the board’s next meeting, scheduled for January in Ketchikan, has been postponed due to high COVID-19 case counts in Southeast Alaska.

MSA Rap     Terry Haines, KMXT

Alaska has over half of the coastline in the entire United States. 6,640 miles of coastline. This number is especially important for Alaska’s fisheries managers because the area they manage extends from the coast to 200 miles out to sea. This means the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has jurisdiction over 900,000 square miles of ocean.

It was not always the case that countries had jurisdiction over waters offshore.  In 1608 the Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius promoted the concept of an ocean under the jurisdiction of no nation, where the traditional uses, navigation and fishing, were absolutely unrestricted. And in the three and a half centuries that followed the nations of the world did indeed sail in a law free high seas.  Every nation’s territorial sea belt of 3 to 4 miles was generally accepted as sovereign. This was because that was the range of cannons back in the day.  But otherwise conventional wisdom was that the nations of the earth could never agree on a universal maritime code. This changed rapidly in modern times as a reaction to two factors. The first was the realization that great mineral wealth might lie beneath the continental shelves of the world. The second was the modernization of fishing fleets, and their increased ability to extract significant amounts of fish far from their home ports.

In 1945 President Truman issued two proclamations that well expressed a change in the way nations were thinking about their marine resources. One proclamation claimed exclusive mineral and hydrocarbon rights on the continental shelf, and the second claimed the right to develop fishery conservation programs in adjacent seas. Other nations followed suit with a hodge-podge of often contradictory regulations. Then in 1971 Kenya introduced the idea of an Exclusive Economic Zone, that would give each nation control of all of its offshore economic activities, whether in the water column or the seabed. Between 1973 and 1982 the United Nations developed its Convention on the Law of the Sea, which established a universal Exclusive Economic Zone that extends 200 miles from the coastline of every nation but preserved freedom of navigation for all vessels.

In 1976 the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was passed to take advantage of our nation’s expanded jurisdiction. Before MSA foreign fleets could fish as close as 12 miles offshore. The eight new US Regional Fishery Management Councils directed their attention to enabling the Americanization of our fisheries, and they were successful. But by 1996 many US fisheries were depleted, and Congress passed a revision to MSA called the Sustainable Fisheries Act, which refocused its goals toward conservation, stock rebuilding, and ecosystem protection. The Sustainable Fisheries Act included 10 National Standards, by which all US fish laws are meant to be judged. If the MSA is the Constitution of American fishery regulation, then the National Standards are its Constitutional Amendments.

National Standard One asks managers to achieve Optimum Yield while preventing overfishing. But which goal is the trump card? The courts will likely be the place where these questions are answered. In the case of NRDC vs Daly regarding National Standard One, the court determined “Where two alternatives achieve similar conservation goals, the alternative that minimizes the adverse impacts on fishing communities would be preferred.” However, it also notes: “The Government concedes, and we agree, that, under the Fishery Act, the Service (NMFS) must give priority to conservation measures. It is only when two different plans achieve similar conservation measures that the Service takes into consideration adverse economic consequences.”


In a recent debate over halibut bycatch we saw two National Standards butt heads. National Standard 9 requires managers to minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality “to the extent practicable”. National Standard 1 requires managers to prevent overfishing while achieving Optimum Yield. The Optimum Yield is the yield that achieves the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities. Basically it’s Maximum Sustainable Yield minus considerations. What, you may now ask, is Maximum Sustainable Yield? Maximum Sustainable Yield is the amount of fish you can remove from a fishery, and still be able to remove the same amount the next season, and the season after that.  It’s the maximum yield that can be sustained over time. Optimum Yield starts with Maximum Sustainable Yield, then reduces it by any relevant social, economic, or ecological factor.

In the case of halibut bycatch allocations to the Amendment 80 fleet of large catcher processors, the Fishery Management Council is charged both with enabling Optimum Yield for a fleet that produces millions of pounds of food, and minimizing the bycatch of non-target halibut. They chose to link bycatch allowances with halibut abundance, with the likely result that the Amendment 80 fleet will fall far short of Maximum Sustainable Yield for target species. As the National Standards scrape up against each other like tectonic plates, the future undoubtedly holds more tough decisions.


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