Formed in 2008, the Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC), formerly the Best Use Cooperative, is a group of “catcher processor” fishing companies interested in working to improve the management of Bering Sea flatfish and other non-pollock groundfish fisheries. Working with federal scientists, the AKSC has almost entirely eliminated its impact on the seafloor and bottom-dwelling marine species while still catching fish that feeds millions of people every year.
This revolution in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl fisheries has been achieved by studying the behaviors of fish and modifying both our fishing practices and our gear to avoid the fish we don’t want to catch, while still herding our target species into our nets. These changes have allowed us to reduce our seafloor contact by over 90%.
The Alaska Seafood Cooperative fleet is leading the way under a new federal “catch share” program that allocates fixed amounts of Pacific cod, yellowfin sole, rock sole, Pacific ocean perch and Atka mackerel to the Cooperative. In return the fleet agreed to increase the amount of fish we retain, to reduce bycatch and to promote sustainable fishing practices.
By ending the race for fish and working cooperatively, the fleet now harvest more fish with fewer tows by targeting areas of high abundance. Our retention rates have increased, our bycatch rates have fallen, and the increased flow of product into the market has been good for everybody. Buyers can now develop programs around our consistently available products.
Because our Cooperative manages its own allocations and our catch is harvested more efficiently, fishing operations are now nearly year round which is good for seafood consumers, as well as the Alaska communities that support our industry.
Since we operate in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, severe weather is often an issue but now that the race for fish is over, our captains can avoid the worst conditions and fish the grounds when it makes sense. This new management system is better for our highly productive marine ecosystem, better for the men and women working on the vessels, and better for markets and consumers.