The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved the use of pot gear in sablefish individual fishing quota fishery in the Gulf of Alaska. Final action reached at the council’s meeting on April 12 includes provisions for identifying tags on the pots, retention of halibut caught incidentally and a review of the effects of this fishery three years after implementation.
The council’s action still faces a lengthy regulatory process and is not likely to go into effect until 2017, said Glenn Merrill, head of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Region division of sustainable fisheries.
Merrill also noted that the International Pacific Halibut Commission would have to change its regulations to allow halibut to be retained by vessels using pot gear.
That action had support from United Fishermen’s Marketing Association at Kodiak, the North Pacific Fisheries Association, in Homer, Alaska, and the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, but opposed by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association at Sitka.
Jeff Stephan, manager of UFMA, told the council that without the introduction of pots into the sablefish fishery in the Gulf an expanding whale population would continue to feed off of longline gear.
Megan O’Neil, executive director of PVOA, said their nearly 100 members supported the legalizing of pots to fish for sablefish throughout the Gulf.
But Jeff Farvour, of Sitka, who trolls for salmon and halibut, urged the council not to allow pot fishing for sablefish in the Gulf until effective, enforceable mitigation measures could be identified to protect the longline sablefish fleet from the impact of sablefish pots, which were banned in the Gulf in the 1980s. “The most effective way to do this is not allow pots to fish in the same area as longline,” Farvour said. Linda Behnken, executive director of ALFA, told the council that the introduction of pots to the Gulf sablefish fishery has the potential to create significant gear conflicts and grounds preemption with vessels that continue to target sablefish with hook and line gear.
Twice as many boats fish black cod in Southeast Alaska than in the western Gulf, she told the council.
“Given that most small boats cannot convert to pots for safety, logistic or economic reasons, the impacts will be borne by the small boat fleet,” Behnken said.
“It is clear that the introduction of pots to the Southeast sablefish fishery will drive quota share consolidation and likely eliminate small boats from this historically important fishery.”
Copies of all written testimony on this issue online at www.npfmc.org