Fish Radio
Halibut bycatch cuts, comments due to NPFMC
May 19, 2015

 This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch … Got something to say about halibut bycatch? Now’s your chance. More after this –

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 Alaskans across the state are demanding that fishery overseers say bye-bye to halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. More than six million pounds of mostly small halibut are discarded as bycatch each year in trawl fisheries targeting flounders, rockfish, perch, mackerel and other groundfish besides pollock. In two weeks federal fish managers will decide whether to cut the bycatch level by up to 50 percent.    

 “This is about conservation of the resource in a region that provides halibut for all other regions throughout the state. Really, this is halibut ground zero.”  

 Theresa Peterson of Kodiak is an outreach coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. She points out that the bycatch is not just a Bering Sea issue.

“Tagging studies show clearly that a halibut born in the Bering Sea could end up virtually in any management area within a couple years of its life.  It’s a bycatch issue that affects all user groups throughout the state,” Peterson said. 

 The bycatch levels, which are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, have not been changed for 20 years for the fleet of 28 trawlers, all Seattle-based.  At the same time, the halibut catches for commercial, sport and subsistence users have been cut every year for more than a decade due to depleted stocks. Federal data show that the multi-billion pound trawl fisheries discarded seven times more individual halibut in 2014 than were landed by fishermen in the same Bering Sea region.

 “Alaska is the model for fishery sustainability and we should not prioritize bycatch over all the other harvests. And this is what we are seeing out in the Bering Sea.”

 So far 16 Alaska groups and communities and a dozen Alaska legislators have passed resolutions and written strongly worded letters to the Council supporting the 50 percent bycatch cut. Chris Woodley of the Groundfish Forum called the extreme cut ‘ridiculous’ saying that it will end up costing hundreds of jobs and more than $100 million to the Alaska economy.

AMCCs Peterson says Alaskans and the resource are paying a higher cost.

“This iconic species to subsistence, commercial and sport users is too valuable to waste and we can do better,” Peterson rebutted. “It has been 20 years since that bycatch level has been addressed in a meaningful way. It is absolutely time to act.”

 The North Pacific Council will decide the week of June 1 in Sitka. Comments are accepted through May 26 at  

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 Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, serving Alaska’s fishing communities since 1910. On the web at – In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.