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Theresa Peterson Fisheries Policy Director, Alaska Marine Conservation Council Rachel Donkersloot Coastal Cultures Research

The social, cultural and economic sustainability of fishing towns and villages in Alaska are dependent on the success of their fisheries. This case study presents the Kodiak Jig Initiative as an example of a highly collaborative fishermen-led effort to create and maintain small-scale fishing opportunities in the Gulf of Alaska. It discusses specific policy and market-based challenges and solutions to ensuring the viability of the small-boat Kodiak jig fleet. The case study describes marketing initiatives, mechanisms and partnerships resulting in the establishment of niche markets and the Kodiak Jig Seafoods brand. These efforts have resulted in significant increases in the dockside value of Pacific cod and rockfish for the small-boat fleet. Also discussed are important policy provisions advanced by jig fishermen and partners to successfully secure quota set-asides that have served as an important foundation for the marketing initiatives presented herein. These set-asides provide affordable entry-level opportunities for new and young fishermen as well as those seeking more diversified access. Combined, these policy- and market-based efforts have helped to ensure viable access and livelihood opportunities for Kodiak's small-boat jig fleet. The successes and challenges of the Kodiak Jig Initiative serve as examples that can assist other fishing communities and fleets in developing approaches that fit their specific needs.

Keywords: Small-boat jig fishing, Alaska, direct marketing, value chain policies, entry level opportunity, set aside, diversified access.

Alaska is the site of world-renowned fisheries that contribute to the social, cultural and economic sustainability of the region. More than 6 billion pounds (2.7 million metric kg) of seafood was pulled from Alaskan waters in 2015, the largest harvest ever recorded (ASMI, 2017). The commercial fishing fleet is made up of roughly 9 000 vessels, the bulk of which are under 58 feet (17.7 metres) in length. Nearly two-thirds of these vessels (roughly 5 700) are under 32 feet (9.6 metres) in length (ASMI, 2017). In supplying wild seafood to local and global markets, these vessels also serve as stewards of small business and local resources, providing vital economic opportunities and fostering intergenerational connection to place, culture and identity. At the same time, Alaskan fisheries and fishing communities are impacted greatly by climate change and climate variability, global seafood markets, fisheries policy and regulatory changes. Disconcerting shifts in recent decades, such as fleet consolidation, increased entry costs, aging trends (commonly referred to as the "greying of the fleet") and loss of fishing rights, have reduced opportunities and diminished rural and local fishing livelihoods in coastal Alaska (Donkersloot and Carothers, 2016; Ringer et al., 2018; Kamali, 1984; Beaudreau et al., 2019). Fishery management systems that restrict and privatize access have been identified as a major driver of these trends (Carothers, 2010; Carothers and Chambers, 2012; Pinkerton and Davis, 2016; Davis and Ruddle, 2012).

Alaskan fishery policymakers have developed a number of programmes and provisions to address declining access and support small-scale fishing opportunities in the North Pacific (Cullenberg et al., 2017). Some of these have been more successful than others in providing for community-based fishery access and benefits (Apgar- Kurtz, 2015; Carothers, 2011). One of these is the Kodiak Jig Initiative, a highly collaborative effort to create and maintain small-scale fishing opportunities in the Gulf of Alaska. This case study highlights effective partnerships and synergistic policy and market-based initiatives that have been fundamental to ensuring the viability of the small-boat Kodiak jig fleet.

The experience of the Kodiak Jig Initiative illustrates multiple provisions from Chapter 7 of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines), including ensuring post-harvest actors are part of relevant decision-making process (paragraph 7.1); supporting efforts to enable investments in appropriate infrastructure, organizational structures and capacity development to support the small-scale fisheries post-harvest subsector in producing quality seafood (paragraph 7.3); and supporting fishermen' associations to promote their capacity to enhance their income and livelihood security and marketing mechanisms (paragraph 7.4).

Located in the Central Gulf of Alaska, the Kodiak Archipelago is made up of Kodiak Island and several surrounding islands (Figure 2.1). The city of Kodiak is located on the North Eastern edge of Kodiak Island. With a population of just over 6 000, it is the region's largest community.1 Kodiak is home to one of the most diverse commercial fishing ports in the state and the United States of America in general, representing several species -- including salmon, halibut, sablefish, crab, cod and pollock -- and many gear types (trawl, setnet, seine, pot, longline, jig, etc.).

In 2015, Kodiak ranked third among American commercial fishing ports in terms of monetary value of seafood landed (USD 137.5 million) and second in terms of volume landed (513.9 million pounds, or 233 million kg) (NMFS, 2017). Roughly one-third of all jobs in Kodiak are directly connected to fishing (Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, 2014). Local fishing infrastructure for Kodiak City includes seven shore-based seafood processors that operate year-round and two boat harbours. More than 700 vessels are homeported in Kodiak, but the port is largely scaled towards industrial fishing operations and a trawl fleet that emerged in the mid-1970s following the creation of the American 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and subsequent phasing out of foreign fishing off the coast. For example, roughly 488 million pounds (221 million kg) of seafood was delivered to Kodiak processors in 2014. Of this, over 300 million pounds (136 million kg) was harvested by 40 trawl vessels (McDowell Group, 2016). Fishery infrastructure that can benefit Kodiak's small-scale fleet, including the addition of a small crane and ice machine, have been identified as key community development targets by local fishermen and city officials.


Kodiak Archipelago communities include six rural Alutiiq fishing villages that are not connected by road. These communities have persisted for more than 7 500 years (Knecht and Jordan, 1985) despite disruptive waves of Russian and American colonization (Pullar, 2009). Recent research demonstrates the devastating impacts of privatizing fisheries access on these small Alaska Native villages (Coleman et al., 2018; Carothers, 2010). Ringer et al. (2018) note an 84 percent decline in the number of young salmon fishermen (under 40 years of age) in the rural fishing villages of the Kodiak Archipelago compared to historic levels. 2

The city of Kodiak has also experienced notable declines in fishery access and participation in recent decades. The impacts of the rationalization of Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fisheries and the introduction of individual fishing quotas in the halibut and sablefish fisheries have been identified as having particularly detrimental impacts on Kodiak (Knapp, 2006; Carothers, 2010). Increasing barriers to entry and privatized access has been described as an "intrinsic" quality of these programmes (NPFMC, 2017, cited in Ringer et al., 2018). Fishery managers, legislators and community members and leaders increasingly identify local loss of fishery access rights as a pressing issue for the state at large (State of Alaska, 2012). These trends and concerns provide an important frame of reference for understanding the importance of the Kodiak Jig Initiative in securing small-scale, diversified and entry-level fishing opportunities in the Gulf of Alaska.

This case study details the successes and challenges of a multiyear seafood marketing initiative undertaken by Kodiak jig fishermen and partners, including staff from the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC). AMCC is an Alaska-based non-profit whose mission is to protect the integrity of Alaska's marine ecosystems and promote healthy, ocean-dependent coastal communities. The authors of this study are current and former AMCC staff who were engaged in developing and supporting market- based strategies and policy advocacy work discussed in this study.

The case study follows the general timeline of key events and project activities, beginning with vital policy successes at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC). This policy work helped to secure access to local fisheries for the small-boat jig fleet and laid the foundation for seafood marketing initiatives aiming to increase the value paid to fishermen for their catch, and ensure continued fishery access and benefits for fishing communities. All fishery data included in this study comes from data requests to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), unless otherwise noted. The authors also reviewed relevant fishery policy documents and reports pertaining to the creation of small-scale fishery access provisions. Discussion of market-based strategies, including development of niche markets, seafood branding efforts, and working with seafood processors is informed in part by eight semi-structured interviews with jig fishermen, seafood processors and other project partners (e.g. staff from Alaska Sea Grant, Sitka Salmon Shares, etc.).

The jig fishery operates in the Central Gulf of Alaska around Kodiak Island. The fleet targets primarily Pacific cod, black rockfish and dusky rockfish.3 Black rockfish is harvested using jig gear only. Other groundfish (including pollock, sablefish, shallow and deepwater flatfish, rex sole, flathead sole, arrowtooth flounder and Pacific ocean perch, among others) are targeted commercially in the Central Gulf of Alaska using other gear types, including trawl, longline and pot.4

The jig fleet is primarily community-based, with the bulk of the fleet living in Kodiak. Jigging is a hand-tended hook-and-line method that involves weighted vertical lines suspended by rail-mounted bottom reels or computerized jigging machines (Figure 2.2). J-hooks or circle hooks are baited with squid, herring and Atka mackerel or dressed with colourful rubber tubing. Jig vessels use between two and five machines with a maximum of 30 hooks set per machine (Figure 2.3).5



Jigging is carried out in both state (0--3 nautical miles from shore) and federal waters (3--200 nautical miles from shore). The NPFMC develops regulations for federally- managed fisheries while the Alaska Board of Fisheries develops regulations for state- managed fisheries.6 Management of cod and rockfish in state and federal waters is complex and involves multiple entities and management plans, but overall the harvest amount for each gear sector is apportioned and distributed annually based on catch limits set for each groundfish stock.

In the late 2000s, the NPFMC began considering potential management changes to rockfish and cod in the Gulf of Alaska. The impending change kick-started a multiyear strategy led in partnership by Kodiak-based jig fishermen, the Alaska Jig Association (AJA) and AMCC. Between 2009 and 2012, fishermen and community advocates maintained a strong presence at NPFMC meetings and lobbied the NPFMC to ensure that any new management structure under consideration included clear entry-level opportunities and small-scale fishery access. The team regularly submitted written comments and verbal testimony at NPFMC meetings. They also requested several meetings with NPFMC members, staff and decision makers outside of formal NPFMC meetings, including meetings with key representatives from the State of Alaska. (The State of Alaska holds a voting seat on the NPFMC). The NPFMC meets five times per year in various locations in Alaska and in Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. Travel to and participation in these meetings is expensive and time consuming. For rural fishermen in particular, it requires airfare, lodging and time away from work. At critical decision points throughout the NPFMC process, AMCC and AJA helped to ensure representation of the small-boat jig fleet by providing financial support to local jig fishermen to cover travel and meeting participation costs.

Jig sector set-asides: Pacific cod and rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska

Direct engagement in the NPFMC process paid off in 2012 with passage of new fishery management plans that included set-asides of Pacific cod and rockfish for the jig fleet.

Amendment 83 of the Gulf of Alaska Fishery Management Plan authorized gear sector allocations that effectively limit the amount of Pacific cod that each sector is allowed to harvest. Allocations were based on historical participation by larger-scale operations fishing in the winter. The jig sector held little catch history (less than 1 percent) and would have received little quota under an allocation process based solely on recorded catch history.

Under the new plan, the jig sector receives an initial allocation of 1 percent of the total allowable catch (TAC), which comes off the top (i.e. prior to allocating to other gear groups). If the jig fleet catches 90 percent or more of the 1 percent set-aside, the sector receives an additional 1 percent of the TAC for the following year. If the jig sector does not harvest 90 percent of the allocation for two consecutive years, the quota allocation to the jig sector drops by 1 percent and the quota is harvested by other gear groups. Under this "stairstep" provision, the jig fleet's allocation cannot fall below the initial 1 percent allocation. The total allocation to the jig sector is capped at 6 percent of the TAC. This is significant: it represents an unprecedented allocation in the North Pacific, as it provides the jig sector the opportunity to harvest a portion of the overall catch far greater than the fleet's recorded catch history.

In addition to the Pacific cod jig sector set-aside, the new management plan severely limits the number of licenses in the trawl and fixed-gear fleets for harvesting cod.7 Jig vessels are exempt from the requirement of holding a limited license to participate in the fishery. The jig exemption was created in response to stakeholder input, and ensures the jig fishery remains entry-level and affordable. In an industry marked by rising barriers to entry, new participants and young fishermen can gain access to the jig fishery by purchasing a USD 75 license. There are additional provisions for harvesting Pacific cod in state waters, including gear restrictions that limit the cod harvest in state waters to jig and pot cod sectors.8 These restrictions represent a clear policy choice by the State of Alaska to limit nearshore harvesting to gear types associated with low bycatch and habitat impacts.9

Rockfish set-asides

The rockfish set-aside for the jig sector is part of a larger management shift toward privatizing the fishery. The Rockfish Program allocates exclusive harvesting privileges to trawler and catcher-processor vessels for all primary and secondary rockfish species.10 The programme includes an annual set-aside of the TAC for the entry-level longline fishery, which includes jig gear. Similar to the cod quota set-aside, the rockfish quota set-aside increases annually to a predetermined cap by species. For example, if the jig fleet harvests 90 percent of its allocation of a species in the previous year, the set-aside allocation increases by a fixed amount for each species.11 Table 2.1 shows the 2012 initial allocations for each rockfish primary species, the incremental increase for future seasons, and the cap for the entry-level longline fishery.

TABLE 2.1 Entry level longline fishery allocation

Rockfish Primary SpeciesInitial AllocationIncremental Increase per Season if ≥ 90% of Allocation isUp to Maximum % of TACPacific ocean perch5 metric tonnes5 metric tonnes1%Northern rockfish5 metric tonnes5 metric tonnes2%Pelagic shelf rockfish30 metric tonnes5 metric tonnes5%

Source: NOAA Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish Program Informational Guide 2015.

In state waters, the harvest of black rockfish is limited to jig gear. This measure was implemented to minimize depletion of the stock, which are a long-living species subject to overfishing. The black rockfish fishery in state waters also has a permit holder (owner) onboard provision and a cap on the amount that can be harvested in any five-day period.12 These restrictions further mitigate impacts on the stock by intentionally spreading out the harvest time period, a provision which also favours small-scale, community-based fishermen.

Summary of set-asides: policy success, practical challenges

The inclusion of quota set-asides for the jig sector in new management plans for Pacific cod and rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska was the result of sustained and direct engagement in the decision-making process by jig fishermen themselves. This engagement was supported by a key partnership with AMCC which provided necessary funding, capacity and expertise to ensure local stakeholder participation in the decision-making process. Equally important was support from the State of Alaska, which was instrumental in advancing the provisions to provide for small-scale fisheries access throughout the decision-making process.

Jigging does not require a high capital investment and is thus a good opportunity for young and community-based fishermen to earn income for entry into other fisheries (thereby diversifying their portfolios). In 2012, there were 145 jig vessels participating in the state waters cod fishery (Table 2.2), up from 81 vessels in 2010. In some cases, the set-asides are working as envisioned. They are providing new and young fishermen with a low-cost opportunity that facilitates entry into other fisheries, primarily salmon. But the jig fishery is not without its challenges. By the time the set-asides were put in place in 2012, low dock prices for Pacific cod and rockfish species were clear hurdles for small-scale fishermen unable to mitigate low prices with higher volumes. In short, the set-asides provided access, ensuring opportunities for current and future small- boat fishermen, but the market made the opportunities marginal. The ex-vessel price was insufficient in providing a viable income for fishermen harvesting small volumes. Between 2011 and 2018, the average price per pound for black rockfish was USD 0.45. For Pacific cod and dusky rockfish, the average price for these years was USD 0.37 and USD 0.30, respectively.

Participation in the jig fishery varies widely from year to year (Table 2.2). This variability is tied to both price per pound and nearshore availability of stocks. To address market challenges, jig fishermen in partnership with AMCC refocused their efforts, inspired initially by access challenges. This time the partnership focused on developing market-based initiatives aiming to increase the profitability of the jig fishery and generate greater social, economic and environmental impact, by leveraging its key assets: a community-based fleet of owner-operators, low-impact gear, and harvesting techniques (i.e. hand-tended hook and line) that deliver the highest quality seafood.

TABLE 2.2 State-water Pacific cod jig effort, harvest level and harvest, 2002–2018 Kodiak Areastate-waters Pacific cod jig gear effort,guideline harvest level (GHL),and harvest, by year, 2002–2018YearVesselsLandingsGHL(pounds)Harvest (pounds)% of GHL harvested2002513404 365 1531 389 83831.820031006883 995 8783 195 60580.020041209614 932 8434 210 28485.420051178494 563 1554 570 327100.22006774775 218 4801 446 88127.72007634575 218 4801 249 75323.92008766475 222 3382 042 08239.12009948334 343 2444 450 423102.52010817076 757 4446 504 73396.320111329807 415 2487 135 46696.220121451 1607 845 7017 938 727101.22013551996 791 340587 9428.72014775207 316 5833 170 71343.320151008108 449 2163 879 53745.920161087476 794 6473 327 88749.0201723506 087 452101 9911.7201810211 118 55929 0162.61997–2018 average876385 542 2742 985 77252.02014–2018 average644305 953 2912 101 82928.5

Source: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The creation of Kodiak Jig Seafoods

In 2012, AMCC received a two-year grant in the amount of USD 90 000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The grant provided crucial funding to support a marketing initiative designed to ensure that the benefits of the hard-fought policy provisions achieved at the NPFMC could be fully realized. The primary goal was to create a brand based on differentiating cod and rockfish products harvested by jigging from products harvested by the industrial fleet, which uses gear with a higher environmental impact. (The hand-tended, vertical lines used in jigging result in low bycatch and minimal impact on seafloor habitat). The ultimate goal was to enhance entry-level fishing opportunities for local, conservation-minded fishermen in Kodiak through a market-based approach that increases the profitability of jig fisheries. For two years, jig fishermen partnered with AMCC and other knowledgeable entities (identified below) to advance a multipronged strategy to achieve this goal. Key project activities included: identifying market potential, improving product quality, enhancing conservation performance, effectively telling the story through branding and outreach, and creating a fishermen-led business.

To begin, AMCC and jig fishermen worked with chefs, restaurants and seafood distributors in Alaska and along the West Coast of the United States of America to identify and develop niche markets, while emphasizing the fishery's social and environmental qualities. Jig fishermen also collaborated with seafood quality experts from Alaska Sea Grant to define good practices and alter fishing behaviour when needed. Jig fishermen modified their fishing decks (e.g. adding live-immersion bleeding containers and ramps into the fish hold to minimize bruising) and implemented quality control measures to ensure delivery of high-quality seafood to market. For example, jig vessels now make short trips (three days maximum), and all fish are gill-bled and immersed in slush ice for rapid chilling. More generally, fishermen adhere to specific handling standards from the moment the fish come out of the water. Fishermen gently bring each fish over the rail without dropping it more than 15.24 cm. Fishermen immediately slice gill plates and place the fish in slush ice for a minimum of 15 minutes before transferring it to the fish hold where each fish is packed in ice. Local jig fishermen also worked with AMCC and Alaska Sea Grant to develop conservation guidelines and improve conservation performance. Examples include avoiding hotspots of non-target species by sharing information, and releasing fish to be discarded with minimal injury.

A key goal of the project was to communicate the social and environmental values of the fishery in a manner that connected consumers with fishermen. The team partnered with downtown Anchorage restaurants and chefs to host "Meet Your Fishermen" dinners, presented at conferences, and developed multiple print and online materials (including a website:

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (MAP) served as a key partner in many of these efforts. The Kodiak-based Seafood Marketing Specialist met with AMCC and AJA many times over the course of the project, providing insights and recommendations ranging from business planning to seafood marketing to seafood quality and handling. In 2012, MAP also hosted a workshop, "Differentiating Your Seafood Product from Your Competitors," and helped finalize the quality and handling guidelines adopted by Kodiak Jig Seafoods fishermen.

From the outset, the team had envisioned a fishermen-led business as a key outcome. Project partners hosted several meetings to discuss forming a cooperative or a limited liability company (LLC) as the business structure needed to bring seafood products to market and greater benefits to the fishermen themselves. Over the course of the project it became clear that most jig fishermen wanted to remain fishermen, and had little interest in staying onshore to manage that side of the business. To account for this, the team shifted course with AMCC providing a leadership role in managing the onshore business. AMCC operates a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) in Alaska and brought valuable experience and capacity in managing key aspects of the seafood business including working with processors, shipping and storage, seafood marketing and distribution, and customer service and sales.

At the end of the two-year National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)-funded project, jig fishermen and AMCC staff had developed a marketing plan; a seafood brand, logo and website; and sustainability standards and quality and handling guidelines for participating jig fishermen to adhere to. This was the beginning of Kodiak Jig Seafoods (KJS; Figure 2.4).


Securing small-scale processor partners in a large-scale port

One of the most important and challenging aspects of the marketing effort was finding a Kodiak processor to partner with that had both the capacity and interest to custom process small deliveries of seafood. Although Kodiak is one of the largest fishing ports in the nation with year-round seafood processing, local fishing infrastructure is primarily geared toward large-scale, high-volume fisheries. Finding a processor willing and interested in labour-intensive, custom processing remains a key challenge for small-scale seafood marketing in Kodiak.

Based on market research and customer demand, KJS focused on 1--2 pound (0.45—0.90 kg) vacuum-packed, skinless, boneless fillets. Each fillet was labelled with the KJS logo, along with the vessel name and other required product information.13 Initial discussions with a small processor with waterfront access started out well, resulting in a verbal contract for the upcoming season. Prior to the start of the season, however, this processor was purchased by a large processor with a business model built on larger volumes and sending product to China for secondary processing. The new owners were unwilling to take on the custom processing needs of KJS. Jig fishermen then met with every large-scale processor along the Kodiak waterfront, always with the same request, but none was able to meet its custom processing needs. A way forward was eventually found with two small processors. Neither had been involved in custom processing for the jig sector before (focusing instead on smoked and pickled fish), but both were interested and supportive of the initiative. With processing secured, KJS launched sales in 2014.

Working with two small processors created its own set of challenges. For example, one of the processors was not located on the waterfront, so arrangements had to be made to offload and fillet the fish at one processer, and then bring the iced bags of fillets in insulated totes across the street with a forklift to the other for custom processing. Key to operational success was having AMCC Kodiak-based staff provide vital capacity in following the product from the moment it was offloaded from a jig vessel, through processing, into freezers and eventually onto planes headed to market.

The arrangement with the two small processors worked well until the same large processor that had bought out the initial KJS processing partner also bought out the processor that was offloading and filleting KJS product prior to custom processing. This and other factors contributed to the end of this processing arrangement. During this period, KJS began working with another custom processor, Kodiak Island WildSource. WildSource is owned by the Sun'aq Tribe of Kodiak. Despite some challenges (for example, the plant had no ice and was located on the third floor of a warehouse), the new arrangement worked well. KJS was able to purchase ice and pay for use of a crane on a private dock. The bulk of the jig fishery work occurs in the spring -- a slow time for WildSource, which focuses primarily on smoking salmon. Jig deliveries provided for increased processing opportunities for resident workers at the small processor. This arrangement worked well until a fire swept through the warehouse and the entire structure was deemed a total loss. Fortunately, during this period WildSource was under negotiations to buy a small piece of waterfront. Rebuilding a dilapidated dock and structure on this site are part of their long-term business plan.

Despite processing challenges stemming from limited access to a waterfront dominated by large-scale processors, the market for KJS products continues to grow. Since its inception in 2014, AMCC has paid between 30 and 200 percent over dock price to Kodiak jig fishermen. This range in price increase depends on the year, target species and recovery rates, as well as market demand. For example, AMCC paid USD 0.20 to USD 0.25 per pound over dock price for cod. For black rockfish, AMCC has increased the value to fishermen from USD 0.30 over dock price in the past to USD 0.55 per pound in 2018. For dusky rockfish, AMCC pays jig fishermen USD 0.70 over dock price.

Product from KJS was initially sold to restaurants and lodges in Alaska, and direct to consumers through Catch 49, AMCC's Community Supported Fishery.14 Catch 49 is structured as a social enterprise aimed at helping local Alaskan fishermen increase profitability, rewarding environmental performance, and sustaining local fishing opportunities. The CSF builds on important connections in Alaska's food systems by linking chefs and consumers more directly with community-based, conservation- minded fishermen.15 Catch 49 serves Alaskan markets only. Proceeds from Catch 49 benefit the work of AMCC while also providing fishermen a better price for their catch. Fishermen that participate in the Catch 49 programme get 30 to 200 percent more for their catch than they would otherwise. To date, they have sold roughly 75 000 round pounds (roughly 34 000 kg) of rockfish and 57 000 round pounds (25 854 kg) of Pacific cod to CSF subscribers and Alaska restaurants.

In 2017, a biennial stock assessment survey conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service showed an unexpected finding. Gulf of Alaska cod abundance was in sharp decline. This decline was linked to warmer waters in the Gulf of Alaska referred to as the "warm blob". The survey showed the lowest biomass since the survey started in 1984. This decline was sudden, unexpected and sufficient to warrant an 80 percent reduction in Pacific cod catch limits.

The cod collapse in the Gulf of Alaska has contributed to a notable decline in active jig vessels harvesting cod, from 108 vessels in 2016 to 10 in 2018 (Table 2.2). As nearshore fishermen, the jig fleet was the first to draw attention to the cod decline in the Gulf of Alaska, as they were unable to harvest enough cod to make the fishery viable. For example, in 2012, the jig fleet harvested just over 100 percent of the harvest level in state waters (Table 2.2). The following year, in 2013, the fleet harvested only 9 percent. In 2017 and 2018, the fleet harvested less than 3 percent of the harvest level set. The cod decline compelled some jig fishermen to sell their vessels; others moved off island, and still others sought to offset the loss with additional employment in land-based jobs, or by targeting other species with jig gear (e.g. rockfish). For those remaining, the cod decline underlined the importance of diversified access for the small-boat fleet. It also made the rockfish set-aside increasingly vital to small-boat fishermen.

In 2017, a new buyer began working with Kodiak jig fishermen to expand the market and offer jig-caught seafood products to its customer base in the Midwest. Founded in 2012, Sitka Salmon Shares is an integrated, "boat to doorstep," values- driven business. The company specializes in delivering premium-quality sustainable seafood from small-scale fishermen in Southeast and other parts of Alaska to customers via a CSF model. Sitka Salmon Shares has taken an early leadership position in the home-delivered seafood marketplace, and in 2019 the company is projected to have around 9 000 customers in the Midwest and other parts of the country. Kodiak-jig caught rockfish species have been heavily incorporated in the company's CSF shares, creating a strong market opportunity for this small-scale fishery. The company is now the largest buyer of Kodiak jig-caught rockfish, and has consistently paid 30 to 100 percent over dock price for various jig-caught rockfish species. This has created a substantial financial benefit for local fishermen, who have seen increases to their bottom line of USD 8 000 to USD 11 000 in a given season.16

2019 has seen the highest price per pound ever paid to jig fishermen in Kodiak for rockfish. A significant percentage of the rockfish jig harvest is now being landed at a higher dock price destined for markets developed by Catch 49 and Sitka Salmon Shares. The market is growing and helping bolster local fishermen, particularly against hardship stemming from the loss of cod fishing opportunities.

In addition to the policy and market-based approaches discussed above, Kodiak jig fishermen are also at the forefront of other community-based measures to provide infrastructure, stability and market opportunity for small-scale fishermen in Kodiak.

First, jig fishermen led efforts to revise a long-standing Kodiak City ordinance that prevented fishermen from conducting business off of their vessels in the harbour. They circulated a petition asking for a modification in the ordinance which would allow them to sell fish off their boats following all state and federal requirements. If the petition were successful it would provide an opportunity for community members to purchase affordable, fresh fish in the harbour and have the chance to talk to fishermen; raise the dockside value to increase profit margins; and also serve as a means of selling small amounts of fish directly when coming into port with a small load. Jig fishermen organized and regularly attended meetings with the Ports and Harbours Committee and the City Council to explain the intent and positive outcomes envisioned for the community. The revised ordinance passed in 2018. For the first time in decades, fishermen can now legally sell fish off their boats in Kodiak.

Jig fishermen were also actively engaged in a community initiative to improve local fishery infrastructure through the addition of a community crane. This discussion had been underway in the Kodiak community for many years as fishermen sought an independent method to offload their catch. With most of the small jig vessels also participating in higher volume salmon fisheries with an established processor relationship, the ability to request use of a crane from the large processors was rarely an issue, but was asked as a favour. Fishermen advocated for a working waterfront that included infrastructure needed to provide for independent small-scale harvesters. Again, jig fishermen were engaged at every point in the decision-making process. In 2018, a public use crane was erected at a multi-use dock in the main harbour.

A third initiative currently underway stems from a one-day planning session in 2015 during which community members identified and voted on two ideas that would improve quality of life in Kodiak. A local food co-op won one of the votes. Community members wanted a co-op to serve as a gathering place as well as a location to purchase local produce and seafood. The Kodiak Harvest Co-op has been established, and work is underway to open a storefront. Many jig fishermen are members of the co-op and involved in the seafood marketing plan. While funds are being raised for the storefront, weekly farmers' markets in spring, summer and fall serve as a means for fishermen and farmers to sell directly to local consumers, providing an opportunity for consumers and harvesters to meet in person and build relationships.

The success of the Kodiak Jig Initiative demonstrates the strength of community- and fishermen-led initiatives aimed at improving access and market opportunities for small-scale fishermen. Central to these efforts has been a marketing approach that emphasizes not only where the fish was harvested and by whom, but how it was harvested. Differentiating jig-caught seafood products from higher volume, lower value fisheries, such as trawling, has been core to the development of niche markets that value community and environmental sustainability, and can be considered a good practice. That said, basing a seafood marketing plan on small-scale and custom processed products in places like Kodiak creates a number of challenges. High-volume landings from other gear types dominate the market and processing schedules, and the jig fleet is marginalized in its ability to compete. Establishing trusted relationships with local seafood processors, ensuring public access to the working waterfront, and supporting investments in infrastructure that benefit small-scale fisheries are critical to the success of these kinds of marketing initiatives.

As a case study, the Kodiak Jig Initiative illustrates several aspects of the SSF Guidelines. Among the most central: ensuring post-harvest actors are part of relevant decision-making processes (paragraph 7.1); supporting efforts to enable investments in appropriate infrastructure, organizational structures and capacity development (paragraph 7.3); and supporting fishermen' associations to promote their capacity to enhance their income and livelihood security and marketing mechanisms (paragraph 7.4). This study illustrates the power of partnerships and direct engagement in decision-making processes that affect local fishing livelihoods -- another good practice, which serves as an example that can assist other fishing communities and fleets in developing approaches that fit their specific needs. Equally so, this case study demonstrates the very real challenges and changes that small-scale fishermen will continue to face in light of environmental and economic factors that are beyond their control. The warmer waters in the Gulf of Alaska currently contributing to the cod decline will continue to create uncertainty in fisheries, stressing the importance of diversified access when adapting to changing conditions. This and other challenges described above will require collaborative and creative solutions. The Kodiak Jig Initiative makes clear that the solutions to small-scale fishery sustainability must be as diverse as the challenges. There is a growing market demand for products with clear economic, community/cultural and environmental benefits, and small-scale fisheries are well positioned to meet it.

We thank the Kodiak jig fleet for sharing their time, knowledge and vision to this project, especially Darius Kasprzak, Ryan Horwath, Leonard Carpenter, Shawn Dochtermann, Alexus Kwachka and Dave Kubiak. A huge thanks goes to Kelly Harrell, former Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, whose leadership guided development of both Kodiak Jig Seafoods and Catch 49. We also thank Alaska Sea Grant staff Quentin Fong, Chris Sannito, and Julie Matweyou for sharing their expertise on quality assurance, seafood handling, and seafood business development. Stephanie Webb and the Community Fisheries Network founded by Ecotrust and Island Institute also provided invaluable support in the early stages of this work. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service provided data drawn on in this paper. Finally, we thank our processing partners, especially Barb Hughes and Bill Alwert, who helped custom process our first product under the brand name Kodiak Jig Seafoods.

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Coleman, J., Carothers, C., Donkersloot, R., Ringer, D., Cullenberg, P. & Bateman, A. 2018. Alaska's next generation of potential fishermen: a survey of youth attitudes towards fishing and community in Bristol Bay and the Kodiak Archipelago. Maritime Studies, 18: 47--63. (available at

Cullenberg, P., Donkersloot, R., Carothers, C., Ringer, D. & Coleman, J. 2017. Turning the Tide: How can Alaska address the 'graying of the fleet' and loss of rural fisheries access? A review of programmes and policies to address access challenges in Alaska fisheries. Report funded by the North Pacific Research Board and Alaska Sea Grant. (available at

Davis, A. & Ruddle, K. 2012. Massaging the misery: recent approaches to fisheries governance and the betrayal of small-scale fisheries. Human Organization, 71(3): 244--254. (available at

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Source: Zelasney, J., Ford, A., Westlund, L., Ward, A. and Riego Peñarubia, O. eds. 2020. Securing sustainable small-scale fisheries: Showcasing applied practices in value chains, post-harvest operations and trade. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 652. Rome, FAO.

  1. The Kodiak Island Borough encompasses all communities within the Archipelago and has an estimated population of 13 732 (US Census Bureau, 2017). 

  2. This study uses the conventional term “fisherman” to refer to a commercial fish harvester of any gender. Both men and women participate in Alaska fisheries as harvesters but there is strong preference for the term fisherman, over fisher or fisherwoman 

  3. The jig sector also harvests dark rockfish, yellowtail rockfish and others as incidental catch. 

  4. Additional target species for the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery include: shortraker/rougheye rockfish, northern rockfish, "other slope" rockfish, pelagic shelf rockfish, demersal shelf rockfish, thornyhead rockfish, Atka mackerel, squid, sculpin, shark, octopus and skate. 

  5. The maximum number of machines that can be used per vessel is five, with limited exceptions in federal fisheries. 

  6. The NPFMC is one of eight regional councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 to manage fisheries in the 200-mile EEZ. 

  7. See Amendment 86 at the-exclusive-economic-zone-off-alaska-gulf-of-alaska-license-limitation-program. 

  8. The guideline harvest level (GHL) for Pacific cod in state waters in the Kodiak Area is 12.5 percent of the estimated total allowable harvest of Pacific cod for the federal Central Gulf of Alaska Area. This is split between the jig and pot cod sectors. 

  9. See page 49 at groundfish_regs.pdf. 

  10. Primary species consist of northern rockfish, Pacific ocean perch and pelagic shelf rockfish (changed to dusky rockfish in 2012). Secondary species consist of Pacific cod, rougheye rockfish, shortraker rockfish, sablefish and thornyhead rockfish. 

  11. and

  12. Fishermen may not have on board or sell more than 5 000 pounds (round weight) of black rockfish within a five-day period. 

  13. Product information required by the Food and Drug Administration is included to inform consumers about the contents of the product, and to prevent fraud, misrepresentation and unfair competition. All processors follow the same set of rules in labelling. All must be in compliance with the Department of Environmental Conservation processing regulations and must contain a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system. All KJS custom processing has been done with established processors compliant with all regulations due to the cost and complexity of navigating the processing business. 

  14. Before 2017, the CSF was formally named Catch of the Season. 

  15. With the tagline "Seafood caught by Alaskans for Alaskans", the CSF offers its subscribers other seafood products harvested by Alaskan fishermen, such as salmon, crab, halibut and spot prawns. 

  16. Sitka Salmon Shares also offers equity positions in the company to fishermen, and currently has one Kodiak jig fisherman as an owner. Fishermen owners also have the opportunity to participate in the management of the company and are eligible for distributions of company profits. 

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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