Tension was high as fishers were eager to share their questions, stories, and even demands for controlling bycatch, which is the incidental harvest of a non-targeted species.
Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said the goal is to hear fishers’ ideas about what regulations could help curb bycatch.
“People are passionate about bycatch, they want tools to address bycatch,” he said. “They want to know what the bycatch levels are, they want data to inform their decisions and recommendations moving forward and there’s a lot of passion about finding solutions.”
Kodiak was the first stop on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s schedule to host meetings around the state about bycatch.
Some attendees wanted to know what Fish and Game has in the works, while others brought anecdotes about massive hauls of incidental harvest. And lots of the attention was focused on bycatch in trawl fisheries.
Vincent-Lang said they’re an easy target to blame, despite bycatch being in issue for all gear types.
“Trawling probably catches more of a range of species in their trawl nets than any other fishery so they become the target, but the longline fishery has equal amounts of bycatch,” he said.
The night ended with no real conclusion, though, as fishers stopped asking the commissioner questions and instead challenged each other for data and research.
Vincnet-Lang attempted to moderate and give everyone who wanted to talk a chance to speak to the whole room. As the meeting ended, the general consensus was that everyone wants to see more data from Fish and Game.
“I suspected at the end of the day there would be some debate going on amongst the different community members, but I think it came together at the end with people recognizing that all fisheries have some level of bycatch,” he said. “And we all have to work together if we want to have a future in fisheries moving forward.”
Fish and Game staff plan to hold similar meetings and hear from more fishers from around the state in the next six months.