Alaska Pollock Fishery Alliance formed to create “more balanced conversation” around Alaska’s pollock trawl fishery

"The APFA brings an important perspective and united voice to the conversation about how to responsibly manage Alaska’s commercial fisheries"
Coastal Villages Region Fund CEO Eric Deakin
Coastal Villages Region Fund CEO Eric Deakin | Photo courtesy of Alaska Pollock Fishery Alliance
8 Min

The Alaska Pollock Fishery Alliance (APFA) was created on 7 March to provide unified industry representation of Alaska's pollock trawl fishery in public forums.

APFA will have the goal of emphasizing the industry’s commitment to a science-based management approach and to sustainable harvesting of Alaska pollock.

“The Alaska Pollock Fishery Alliance brings an important perspective and united voice to the conversation about how to responsibly manage Alaska’s commercial fisheries and the Eastern Bering Sea marine ecosystem,” Deakin said. “We’re committed to approaches that are supported by research and backed by science. We welcome honest and open dialogue that supports healthy fisheries for all species and supports the communities that rely on the Bering Sea and its resources for their well-being.”

The group, which will not have one leader but rather will be represented by executives of its member organizations, includes harvesters, processors, Alaska pollock buyers, and CDQ programs, and its messaging will be guided by the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP).

“As we get more established, the group is going to evolve to bring in additional subject matter experts in different areas of sustainability and gear and others who can help us speak to the industry's commitment to responsible management practices,” Eric Deakin, the CEO of alliance member Coastal Villages Region Fund, a community development quota (CDQ) program supporting native communities in Western Alaska, told SeafoodSource. 

With Alaska’s pollock fishery facing criticism from the U.S. state’s crab- and salmon-fishing sectors over allegations trawling has negatively impacted both fisheries, the APFA will look to offer the public an “accurate understanding of the Alaska pollock fishery,” Deakin said, making specific reference to the industry’s work in making improvements and innovations in minimizing incidental catch, its support for research on gear impacts and improvements, and its work with state and federal regulators and scientists to improve data collection to better understand fishing and climate impacts to the Eastern Bering Sea marine ecosystem.

“We believe that Alaskans, our customers outside of Alaska, and consumers in general deserve to know more about the fishery, including its longstanding commitment to responsible fishery management based on science and research,” he said. 

Deakin declined to comment in his APFA capacity on specific allegations made by the crab and salmon sectors but said the group planned to address them soon.

“We're really early in the process of focusing first on messaging about gear types and what we're actually doing. I don't think there's an internal opinion right now on how to talk about bycatch. In the past, we have spoken out as Coastal Villages but not as [a] united pollock fishery alliance, and maybe that will change in the future,” he said. “We'll probably be promoting numbers that are already available to the public but have been misrepresented by other groups.”

Speaking personally, Deakin agreed there was 4 to 5 million salmon, mostly chum salmon, that have not returned to Western Alaska as expected, following climate-related events in 2019 and 2020.

“The pollock fishery, when you look at the genetics that are sampled from it, has been on average for the last three years responsible for about 50,000 fish, so we’re 1-80th of the problem,” he said. “There are people who want to magnify that for their own reasons; I'm not talking about people in Western Alaska but south-central fishermen who have made this a political play. [As for] the actual fish that are missing, we’re a very small part of that."

Deakin blamed climate change and competition with hatchery-grown fish for driving down salmon returns.

“There's climate issues, so the salmon are smaller these days all across the state; pollock trawls are not making salmon shrink,” he said. “There’s [also] been competitive problems with hatchery fish. There's more hatchery fish being released out of Asia; when you look at the genetics ... as we go through and catch those fish, in a large bycatch year, 90 percent of those fish or more are from Northern Asia, Southern Asia, and Russia. They're not from Alaska. So, there's huge competition at the dinner table to eat, and our salmon represent in those contexts one in 10 – I think maybe last year one in five – that are not getting the food in their own pastures.”

Deakin pointed to the robust state of Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon fishery as evidence that some Alaska salmon populations are thriving.

“Sockeye, which have different feeding habits and which stay in lakes for a year before they go out to sea, are better fed when they come out to sea and compete better,” he said. “I think some of that will probably be part of our messaging off the top.”

Nonetheless, Alaska’s pollock sector has reduced its salmon bycatch “significantly,” according to Deakin, going from more than 500,000 salmon three years ago to 245,000 two years ago and a little over 100,000 last year.

“That reduction started at the point when this food security crisis happened in Western Alaska as people started thinking about how to avoid more fish,” he said. “I think industry responded quickly, and they spent a lot of resources on it. I think the results of that have so far been good.”

APFA has hired Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.-based RCOMM Strategies, which previously assisted the U.S. Army, USAA, BAE Systems, Verizon, Mattel, Dell, Samsung, and ExxonMobil with public relations, according to Alaska Fish News, to help with its campaign. Deakin declined to disclose APFA’s budget but said the organization has been funded by a “significant investment to bring all the necessary expertise to the table that we need to create the resources and materials to have those meaningful conversations about the responsibility of the fishery.”

“There's not a set amount we need – it’s whatever it takes to get the job done,” Deakin said.

Deakin said APFA will differ from GAPP in that while GAPP has been more focused on marketing pollock and forming relationships with commercial buyers, especially retailers, APFA’s work will be concentrated on ...

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