Alaska fishery managers closely track everything that comes and goes over the rails on boats in the Gulf and Bering Sea, including halibut taken as bycatch.

NOAA Fisheries posts all the catch data by gear type, region and fishery down to the name of the boats.

“With any kind of numbers like that they’re kind of buried and you have to put in some work to sift through it.” 

A few months ago, that caught the attention of halibut fisherman turned broadcaster, Jeff Lockwood, who has turned the bycatch numbers into weekly reports on KBBI in Homer, the nation’s top halibut port.

“I thought this is kind of interesting. After years of being a halibut fisherman, everybody talks about and knows about halibut bycatch but none of us really knew what was going on. When I saw this information was just there and pretty current, a week or 10 days behind what’s actually happening, I thought I’ll just compile this stuff and organize it.” 

The NOAA spreadsheets through July 13 noted that total halibut bycatch in other Alaska fisheries this year was about 4.8 million pounds of which 92 percent came from Bering Sea bottom trawlers.

“Yea sure these fisheries bring in a lot of money and a, where does that money go and who’s benefiting from that money. A lot of them don’t even deliver here.”

So far the bycatch pace is ahead of last year

A 2018 halibut catch summary by the International Pacific Halibut Commission showed that landings of Pacific halibut from California to the Bering Sea were about 23.5 million pounds, a low for the last decade.

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Commercial fisheries took 61 percent of the halibut catch, recreational users took 19 percent and three percent went for subsistence. Halibut bycatch in other fisheries accounted for 16 percent of the total catch limit.

Lockwood is concerned about the bycatch impacts on a fragile Pacific stock. He hopes his reports create more understanding, especially between dueling halibut users.

“In Homer longliners and charter operators tend to get at each other’s throats and accuse of taking all our fish. It’s sort of hey guys, stop fighting amongst yourselves and look at this other stuff going on.”

The NOAA reports also list bycatch of Chinook and other salmon and crabs.