Fish Radio
Sablefish pot gear ok  in GOA starting  in 2017
December 8, 2016

Remains of a sablefish after 'getting whaled.' Credit: Dan Falvey

Remains of a sablefish after ‘getting whaled.’
Credit: Dan Falvey

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Pot gear saves sablefish from getting whaled. It’s a go in the Gulf next year. More after this –

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Gulf of Alaska longliners targeting sablefish, or black cod, will soon get protection from hook robbing whales  —

“Since 2009 or so the Council had been hearing from sablefish fishermen that they were encountering whale depredation. It really ramped up in 2014 and early 2015and the council received requests to go ahead and authorize use of the gear in the GOA.”  

 Rachel Baker is a fisheries management specialist at NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Pot gear has been used in the Bering Sea to protect sablefish catches from killer whales since 2008.  A Council analysis in 2013 showed that when killer whales were present during survey gear retrieval, the whales removed 54 to 72 percent of sablefish from hooks.  At prices ranging from $4 to more than $9 a pound, depending on fish size, it adds up to bad pay day for fishermen.

 “A study in the Western Gulf and Bering Sea a few years ago estimated an additional $980 per vessel day for additional fuel, crew food and opportunity costs for lost time because of sablefish loss off of lines.”  

Fishermen report hauling back gear and often finding only fish lips on their hooks.

“I’ve heard people say sometimes they believe they lose about half their sets to whale depredation and so the CPUE was estimated to decline from 35% to 69 percent for some of their set from 1998 through 2012.”  

CPUE is Catch Per Unit of Effort which is usually a line of 100 hooks.

In the Gulf, the pirates are primarily sperm whales.  Baker says pots can be used in all Gulf fishing regions, with some added protections to prevent gear conflicts between pots and longlines in the Eastern Gulf.

“In the Southeast area, anyone using longline pot gear for sablefish will have to remove all of their gear from the fishing grounds when they go in to make a landing. They won’t be able to leave their pot gear on the grounds.”  

The sablefish and halibut fisheries occur at the same time and many longliners hold quota shares of each. In that case, Baker says fishermen catching legal sized halibut in pots can retain it.

“The Council also recommended that any sablefish fishermen using longline pot gear in the Gulf and caught halibut incidentally in those pots, as long as they have sufficient IFQ, they are required to keep that halibut.  Stakeholders asked to  retain halibut and the Council thought it was important concept from a mgmt perspective to reduce discards and promote efficiency in fishing.”  

Fears that some will target halibut with pots are not feasible, Baker says, due to the minimum size opening which allows only small halibut to enter.   The Council also is working out details for using sablefish pots in state waters which extend out to three miles. The new sablefish pot rules go into effect next March and will be tracked annually and reviewed fully after three years.

Find links to the Council analysis and more at our website

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