Federal fisheries managers are scheduled to take final action at their June meeting in Sitka, Alaska, on further measures to reduce the incidental harvest of millions of pounds of halibut, and one of those options is now a 50 percent cut in bycatch.
During the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Seattle this past week, council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak introduced the measure, telling the council that they needed to act decisively in order to avoid the possibility of an emergency situation in a subsequent year.
After hours of testimony and discussion, the council passed a motion putting the halibut prohibited species documents out for public review, with modifications to alternatives that include up to a 50 percent reduction for the trawl limited access sector, the Pacific cod hook and line catcher vessel sector and the Pacific cod hook and line catcher processor sector, and the community development quota sector.
The option for up to a 50 percent reduction in bycatch also was listed for hook and line catcher vessels and catcher processors targeting anything except Pacific cod or sablefish.
For the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, the options for bycatch allowance reduction is up to 60 percent.
Halibut fishermen in the Bering Sea had faced major cuts in their directed fishery when the International Pacific Halibut Commission met recently in Vancouver, British Columbia, but the IPHC agreed not to make those cuts on condition that the NPFMC take further action on reducing bycatch.
The IPHC and NPFMC also held a joint session during the council meeting, where they heard from many halibut fishermen and groundfish harvesters about the need for and costs of reducing bycatch allowances.
In its testimony to the council, the conservation group Oceana noted that the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that the National Marine Fisheries Service, to the extent practicable minimize bycatch and minimize the mortality of bycatch which cannot be avoided.
From 2004 through 2013, an estimated 82 million pounds of halibut were killed as bycatch in federal groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea, including millions of adult halibut and even more juvenile halibut, Oceana said.
And of greater irony, Oceana said, at the same time, 37 million pounds of this dead halibut bycatch game from the “halibut closed area,” an area created by the IPHC to protect juvenile halibut. Unfortunately that protection was undone by the NPFMC in their very first Bering Sea/Aleutian Island fishery management plan amendment 1, which allowed year-round domestic trawling in the “Halibut Closed Area” starting in 1984, the conservation group said.