Movement grows in AK against halibut bycatch
April 30, 2015
This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch. A groundswell grows against halibut bycatch. More after this –
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Alaskans have had it with high rates of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and a push is afoot to slash it by half. At issue is six million pounds of halibut allowed as bycatch in the multi-billion pound flatfish fisheries, a rate that hasn’t been changed for 20 years. At the same time, declining halibut stocks have cut sport and commercial catches statewide by 70 percent.
The North Pacific Council will make a decision in June. This week a group of 16 Alaskan groups and communities urged Alaska’s Congressional reps to push for the 50 percent bycatch cut, saying conservation of the halibut stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen.
That follows a similar action last month by a dozen Alaska legislators who asked the Council to make the cut as soon as possible. Their letter said the Bering Sea trawl fisheries caught and discarded seven times more halibut than were landed by fishermen in the region.
Notably missing from the legislative list were Kodiak’s Senator Gary Stevens and Representative Louise Stutes. Senator Stevens –
“And I know some people are probably going to be offended and say, ‘Why didn’t do this or do that?’ But you really can’t pit one fishery against another fishery,” Stevens said. “The decision is made elsewhere in any event, and so I chose not to sign it, and that’s where I am on that issue.”
Representative Stutes cited timing and a lack of input from constituents
“My feelings were, ‘I’m a messenger here,’ I carry the message of my constituents, whether it be Kodiak or Cordova or Yakutat. And I wasn’t going to sign onto a letter like that without input from them, from all the different sectors,” Stutes said. “And unfortunately we were right in the middle of budget time, and I didn’t have an opportunity to get that input.”
Both agreed bycatch needs to be reduced. Stutes said the waste is cheating halibut fishermen.
“I think that when you have a targeted fishery, like halibut, and you have halibut IFQs and you’re prevented from fishing your IFQs because of the huge amount that has been taken in bycatch, there’s a significant issue there. And I think it absolutely needed to be reduced.”
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