As the Pacific halibut commission prepares to make drastic cuts in the total allowable catch in Alaska waters, there’s been some debate over the whether to adjust the limit of halibut taken as bycatch by the trawl fleet. KMXT’s Jacob Resneck has more.
— (halibut pkg 4:57 "The Pacific halibut … this issue. I’m Jacob Resneck.")
The Pacific halibut fishery is regulated by treaty between the United States and Canada. An international commission made up of representatives from both countries meets next month in British Columbia where drastic cuts in the total allowable catch or TAC is expected. Alaska’s southeast stands to lose nearly half its TAC while areas in the northern Gulf of Alaska could be slashed by more than a quarter over last year.
In all next year’s TAC could be little more than 41 million pounds in the entire North Pacific fishery. That’s down from more than 50 million this year and more than 70 million just five years ago.
Friction has long existed between halibut fishermen operating sportfish charters and commercial operations. But at the moment there’s concern about halibut taken as bycatch by other fleets such as boats trawling for Pollock. Halibut caught in trawl nets are thrown overboard as waste.
That’s Brian Young, a Kodiak halibut fisherman of more than 30 years. He’s concerned because the bycatch limit hasn’t been adjusted since 1986.
Bycatch is limited to 2,300 metric tons in the Gulf of Alaska and 4,575 metric tons in the Bering Sea. It’s the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that sets these limits. At this month’s fishery council meeting in Anchorage, Duncan Fields of Kodiak cast the lone vote against maintaining the status quo.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission’s Executive Director Bruce Leaman says there needs to be improved oversight over bycatch including more observers.
Julie Bonney is director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, an industry group that represents an alliance of trawlers and processors. She notes the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is already working on expanding onboard observers,
The reasons behind cutting the TAC are complex. Leaman says part of it has to do with overly generous allowable catches, but it’s also because the halibut seem to be growing slower.
Bonney makes the argument that bycatch limits shouldn’t necessarily be lowered because there are in fact a lot more, though smaller, halibut in the gulf that inadvertently end up in nets.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council isn’t ignoring the issue. While it didn’t adjust the bycatch limit this month, it did direct its staff to investigate halibut issues, specifically the bycatch levels in the Gulf of Alaska. New proposals are expected at its meeting in April.
And Duncan Fields says he hopes his fellow council members are willing to get serious on this issue.
I’m Jacob Resneck