Two whole days of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Kodiak in June will be spent on halibut issues, notably final action to slice the cap on halibut in the groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska.
Options before the council include reductions of 5 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent of their current caps, which include 2,000 metric tons of halibut for the gulf trawl fishery and 300 metric tons for the fixed gear fleet.
Mark Fina, senior economist for the council in Anchorage, said these reductions could apply to either or both the trawl and fixed gear fisheries, but not to the rockfish program, which has already seen a 12.5 percent cut in its allowable prohibited species catch of halibut under the extended rockfish program implemented this year.
Also on the council’s halibut agenda are a review of the report on the recent Seattle halibut workshop hosted by the council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission and a discussion paper on Gulf of Alaska comprehensive halibut bycatch amendments. Tentatively, there is also a discussion paper on Bering Sea/Aleutian Island halibut prohibited species catch limits.
Industry opinions are mixed on what action the council should take on the issue of halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska.
Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, was among those attending the halibut workshop in Seattle. Behnken said that the group concluded that bycatch has had a significant impact on the spawning biomass of halibut. “It’s a conservation concern with allocative implications,” she said. “The direct yield loss of a pound of bycatch taken in the trawl fleet is a pound to the commercial fleet, maybe a little bit more, and the impact to the female spawning biomass of one pound of bycatch ranges from two to five pounds of impact to the spawning biomass, depending on where the fish is taken and size of the fish.”
Kenny Down, executive director of the Freezer Longliner Coalition in Seattle, said he supports a status quo because of reductions that his sector has already taken, as well as the fact that their mortality rate on halibut was 9 percent. The coalition allocates a small amount of halibut bycatch to each vessel and each vessel has 100 percent observer coverage, a situation which has proven very effective in keeping bycatch low, he said.
Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank at Kodiak, said there is still so much unknown about the status of the halibut resource that a better plan would be a comprehensive five-year work plan to get a better understanding of the science surrounding the fishery.