TRANSCRIPT - Linda Behnken
Behnken is a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Council
in Sitka, Alaska.
Vaughn Anthony, a NMFS advisor in New England on the scientific
side, was saying that year after year the fish stocks are going
down because of short-term interests and that the solution is to
make sure that the conflict of interest is eliminated.
The North Pacific
Council has never set quotas above what's recommended by the Science
and Statistical Committee, by our scientists saying this is as much
as the resource can sustainably handle. And that needs to be bottom-lined
for every council. I think in the North Pacific we've done a good
job of managing from a single species perspective because we've
always followed the advice of our scientific team.
And we're trying
now to broaden into ecosystem-based management, which takes a whole
lot of more information and bigger-picture thinking than the councils
have in the past. We've tended to manage the resources for the fish
and leave out some of the other predators and the non-target species,
non-commercially important species in our thinking. So there's going
to be some growing pains there.
But I think
the North Pacific Council has documented that the Council's system
can work. It's a great way the public to be really involved in the
management of the fisheries, as opposed to things all happening
back in Washington, D.C. A lot of people will criticize the Councils
if there isn't enough broad-based representation, and that's something
that I know our governor has been working towards in the last few
rounds of council appointments and putting people on there to represent
more diverse interests, both on our advisory panel and on the Council.
So I think that's
something every council will have to strive for in having a conservation
voice on there, maybe a consumer voice, that kind of representation.
But generally speaking, I think the most important aspect is for
the Councils to always follow the advice of their scientists, or
never exceed the voice of their scientists. We have at times set
quotas that quite a bit lower than what our scientists have recommended,
feeling that there's other factors to take into consideration. I
think the council system can work, and has worked well in the North
But apparently you have fears that the Council has vested interests
with allocation issues and so on? How do you prevent that?
to IFQs, because that does involve allocations, they've become valuable
over time. What the Congress is looking at doing right now is setting
some standards that all councils have to follow in shaping IFQ programs.
And those involve
conservation standards, such as: this program shall reduce bycatch,
shall protect habitat. And then also some socio-economic provisions
that it will provide entry level, it must maintain a diverse fleet
and provide for communities and small boats that operate out of
those communities. And I think that's absolutely essential that
those kinds of standards come through Congress and those be applied
to all IFQ programs. So that future councils can't weaken those
So basically you're saying that there are some doings in Congress
that might allay your fears that IFQs may create further consolidation?
I think the
most important thing is how the program is first set up. But make
sure that people don't lose sight of the goals that guided that
initial design of the program. There need to be some strengthening
of the standards that will guide development of all IFQ programs,
and those should involve conservation standards as well as socio-economic
Are there times when politics come to bear and basically defeat
the best efforts to these problems?
In my nine years
on the Council, I haven't seen that very often. For the most part
the politicians have respected the Council as the best equipped
to make the decisions. And I certainly think that if politics do
start entering in and overturning the Council's decisions for purely
political reasons, then you have a very serious problem.
MPAs: President Clinton made some last minute decisions before leaving
the office, making it possible for NMFS to start laying out some
marine reserves, and now Bush is trying to take that apart. From
a fishermen's perspective, do you think there's a value in setting
up a network of preserves for allowing fish to mature and lay more
eggs so that they'll be some spill-over?
I think that
for one thing marine reserves, or the whole 'Marine Protected Area'
concept can take any number of forms. In Canada they've looked at
Marine Protected Area as one way of saying, these kind of industrial
fisheries is inappropriate in this area and we're going to push
them outside this zone and within this zone we're going to allow
community-based, small boats, or slower harvesting layer on the
environment kind of techniques. And that takes the pressure off
the fish in this area.
And then maybe
in a smaller area we're going to say no fishing. Or only fishing
with this kind of gear but certainly no trawling, or types of gear
that have a harder impact on the bottom, remove larger volumes of
fish in a faster amount of time.
So if they're
used in a way that's really appropriate to the area, that they aren't
just sort of blanket closures to all gear types even though one
gear type may not be in anyway compromising the health and viability
of the ecosystem, then I think they can be very useful. But a blanket
closure approach worries me a lot.
We have the
first-ever marine reserve in Alaska, right off of Sitka here - no
groundfish fishing. It's an area that has really incredible pinnacles;
phenomenal corals that are very long-lived -- 500 years old -- very
fragile, they're very easily broken, rockfish, lingcod, certain
species depend on those as juveniles for hiding areas.
And this pinnacle
in particular has a very high abundance of lingcod, which lay eggs,
and then the male guards the nest of eggs. So if anything comes
in near the nest, not just out of hunger but also to guard those
eggs they'll bite it, so they're very susceptible to being overfished.
And the Fish
and Game biologist here went down in a submersible. She documented
what was happening there and brought this proposal forward to close
it to all bottom fishing, any fishing for groundfish, which includes
lingcod. And local people were very supportive of that and we moved
it forward it got to the Council.
said, you know it'd be a whole lot easier for us enforce this if
you closed it to all fishing. In other words, include the
salmon trawlers as well, who never have contact with the bottom,
but it would just be easier because then if a boat were in the area
they'd be in violation. And all of a sudden the proposal became
something the people hadn't supported.
And I felt it
was really important in people's trust in the system, and also the
opportunity to have in the future the success of marine protected
areas to not break that trust with people who've sent letters of
support and testified. And so it was a bitter fight, but we ended
up closing it just to groundfish, so trawlers can still trawl through
the area and if they happen to catch a lingcod in there, they release
But the mortality
of lingcod is very low on trawl gear because you know right away
if they've hit the line and you can release them quickly. So that's
the one marine protected area in Alaska.