Federal fisheries managers are scheduled to take final action this week on proposed reductions in halibut prohibited species catch in Bering Sea/Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries.
There are a number of options before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting through June 9 in Sitka. Discussions on the halibut issue are scheduled for June 4 through June 6.
Options include proposed reductions of from 10 percent to 50 percent in several fisheries: the Amendment 80 Sector, the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands trawl limited access sector, the Pacific cod hook and line catcher processor sector, other non-trawl sectors, the Pacific cod hook and line catcher vessel sector and the community development quota halibut prohibited species quota reserve.
Supporters of halibut bycatch reductions note that the allocation to holders of halibut individual fishing quotas has been cut by 62 percent in the last five years. Meanwhile, the limit on halibut taken incidental to groundfish fisheries has remained virtually the same for two decades.
The Alaska Marine Conservation Council says that last year, because of this disparity in management, seven times more halibut were discarded as bycatch in the BSAI than were landed by commercial halibut fishermen in the same region.
Representatives of the groundfish fishery contend that they are doing whatever is possible in research and fishing practices to limit halibut bycatch. They say the proposed reductions in bycatch would have a serious impact on the Amendment 80, trawl and freezer long line vessel fisheries.
John Gauvin of the Groundfish Forum, the Seattle-based trade association representing five trawl companies that harvest flatfish, said the Amendment 80 fleet catches 160 pounds of groundfish for every pound of halibut caught unintentionally.
In a directly related matter, NOAA General Counsel has ruled that two of the 11 voting members of the federal council – David Long and Simon Kinneen - are recused from voting because their jobs present a financial conflict of interest. Both will be allowed to participate in deliberations on halibut bycatch and tell the council how they would vote, but they are not allowed to actually vote on the issue.