NOAA proposes reduced halibut bycatch limits for Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries
(first issued by NOAA 9/13/13)
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public input on a plan that would tighten limits on the amount of halibut bycatch that could be caught in the commercial groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska.
The proposed fishery management plan amendment, “Amendment 95,” would minimize halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable while preserving the potential for the full harvest of groundfish in the GOA.
Halibut bycatch refers to halibut that is caught by vessels targeting groundfish. Groundfish includes species such as pollock, Pacific cod, rockfish, and various flatfish species. NOAA Fisheries annually sets limits to minimize halibut bycatch in Federal groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, and those limits are divided annually and seasonally among different groundfish sectors. If a sector reaches its halibut bycatch limit before it catches the amount of groundfish available for it to harvest, vessels participating in the sector must stop fishing for groundfish.
There are two broad sectors that harvest groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska that will be directly affected by the amendment–vessels using hook-and-line gear and vessels using trawl gear. The hook-and-line gear sector is further divided into catcher vessels and catcher/processor vessels. Under the proposed amendment, the bycatch limit reductions for each sector would be:
* Hook-and-line catcher/processor– 7 percent; implemented in 2014;
* Hook-and-line catcher vessel– 15 percent; phased in over 3 years by 2016;
* Trawl vessel– 15 percent; phased in over 3 years by 2016.
A phased-in halibut bycatch reduction schedule would allow the affected industry sectors time to adapt to the reduced halibut bycatch limits. The percentage reductions for the trawl, and the hook-and-line catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors are based on each sector’s historic halibut bycatch, as well as a recent reduction of the hook-and-line catcher/processor’s halibut bycatch limit under another action. The jig gear and pot gear sectors are not affected by this rule, as they historically have been exempt from halibut bycatch limits.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended reducing the annual Pacific halibut bycatch limits for the commercial groundfish fisheries to minimize halibut bycatch in the groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable and promote conservation of the halibut resource. In addition, the proposed halibut bycatch reductions could potentially increase the amount of halibut available to catch in the directed halibut fisheries, such as the commercial Individual Fishing Quota fishery and the charter halibut fishery.
Comments must be received no later than October 17, 2013.
Address comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, and identified by FDMS Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2012-0151. Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:
- Electronic Submission: via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov
- Mail: P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668
- Fax: 907-586-7557
A copy of the proposed Amendment 95 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska is available online at the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region website: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/