When a dozen Alaska legislators sent a letter earlier this month to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council asking for a dramatic reduction in Bering Sea and Aleutian Island halibut bycatch, the names of Kodiak’s legislators were missing.
Rep. Louise Stutes said a lack of input from her constituents prompted her decision not to sign.
“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.”
Sen. Gary Stevens said it was more of a gear-type debate that he had no place in, and admits some fishermen may not like his stance on the issue.
“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.”
Figures cited by the dozen legislators in their letter to the Council’s chair pointed out that halibut are a very mobile fish, with studies showing that 70-percent or more of those tagged in the Bering Sea are later caught in the Gulf of Alaska. Both co
Stevens says the Bering Sea trawl fleet has been working to reduce bycatch and needs more tools to reduce it further. Stutes says the waste is straight up cheating halibut fishermen.
“Personally, yes, I think the halibut bycatch absolutely needs to be reduced,” Stutes said. “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.”
A dozen coastal Representatives and Senators from Ketchikan to Cook Inlet to Bristol Bay, the Y-K Delta and Nome did sign on to the letter.