By Nathaniel Herz
Northern Journal 

Washington governor names anti-bycatch advocate to fishery council


Tribal and environmental advocates calling for a crackdown on salmon and halibut bycatch are set to gain a new ally on the federal council that manages Alaska’s lucrative Bering Sea fisheries.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in March nominated Becca Robbins Gisclair, an attorney and conservation advocate, to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

If U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo accepts Inslee’s recommendation, Gisclair, senior director of Arctic programs at the environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, would assume one of the council’s 11 voting positions. Seven of those are filled by Alaskans.

The council manages fisheries in the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, which starts three miles off the coast of Alaska.

Gisclair would replace Anne Vanderhoeven, a previous choice of Inslee’s who works at Seattle-based Arctic Storm Management Group. Arctic Storm’s parent company owns vessels that participate in the trawl industry, which sometimes accidentally scoop up salmon in their nets while they’re trying to catch pollock, a whitefish that goes into fish sandwiches.

Inslee’s choice comes amid an intense fight at the council about tighter regulation of bycatch, and after what advocates described as a last-minute flurry of lobbying in an effort to convince Inslee to pick an ally of one side or the other in that dispute.

Gisclair has long been a forceful advocate for cracking down on trawlers — a position that aligns with small-boat halibut fishermen across Alaska, along with tribes that have witnessed crashes in salmon populations on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

“I've worked with Becca now for so many years. She's going to make the commercial fishing industry just squirm for a while,” said Brent Paine, executive director of a trawl industry trade group called United Catcher Boats.

Gisclair currently works from Bellingham, Washington, but previously lived in Alaska and worked for a Yukon River fisheries conservation group and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. In a phone interview, she said she is “committed to sustainable fisheries management that centers our coastal communities and ecosystems and equity, in a way that hasn't always been reflected in our decision-making so far.”

Inslee’s choice of Gisclair is especially significant because many trawl companies are headquartered in Washington state and command substantial political influence.

“Conservation and climate are important issues to the governor, and he believes we need a balance of perspectives and potential solutions to the rapidly changing climate and growing complexities in our oceans,” said Inslee spokesman, Mike Faulk. “We also need to consider experience and perspective related to conservation of fisheries, ecosystems and habitat, and respect for environmental protections.”

Paine, from the trawler trade group, described Gisclair as “radical.”

“Go way back to every salmon bycatch measure that has been established by the (Fishery Management) Council — she's been pushing for the most extreme alternative,” he said.

Paine noted that the appointment process still isn’t complete; it’s possible the commerce secretary could choose a different candidate.

Inslee nominated four people for the seat currently held by Vanderhoeven, including Vanderhoeven herself. But Gisclair was his top-ranked choice, which the commerce secretary typically accepts.

This article was originally published in the Northern Journal, a newsletter from Alaska journalist Nathaniel Herz.


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