Federal fisheries managers listened to hours of impassioned testimony at Sitka, then cut the bycatch of halibut in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish trawl fisheries by 25 percent, a decision that left nobody happy.
Commercial fishermen in coastal fishing communities dependent on directed halibut fisheries, charter boat operators, sport anglers and conservation groups had sought a 50 percent cut in the halibut prohibited species catch.
Those engaged in the BSAI groundfish fisheries said they were already doing everything possible to avoid the incidental catch of halibut and opposed cuts, which they said would have an adverse impact on the economies of the Puget Sound region, as well as Dutch Harbor.
The advisory panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council had recommended a 45 percent cut. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner San Cotton proposed a 33 percent cut.
Then Bill Tweit, representing the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, came back with an amendment that cut the halibut bycatch for the Amendment 80 cooperatives by 25 percent, or 1,745 metric tons; Amendment 80 limited access by 40 percent, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl limited access sector by 15 percent, the Pacific cod hook and line catcher processor sector by 15 percent, and the community development quota sector by 20 percent.
Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak urged the council to amend the current analysis and bring it back for final action at a subsequent meeting. His motion, which was defeated, also urged that the analysis be expanded to include analysis of an option for a performance standard for the Amendment 80 sector.
“I acknowledge on a personal basis my identity with the folks living in Western Alaska, and their loss of economic opportunity, personal identity and cultural legacy,” Fields said, in a lengthy impassioned plea for the coastal communities dependent on the directed halibut fisheries. “I get it.”
While the Bering Sea halibut belong to all the people of the United States, the cultural values of communities need to be considered, he said.
St. Paul Mayor Simeon Swetzof noted that while the Bering Sea groundfish fisheries generate millions of dollars in revenues, they had inflicted economic pain on the people of St. Paul, and those harvesting in the directed halibut fishery in Area 4CDE.
Chris Woodley, executive director of the Groundfish Forum, a trade association representing companies that fish for flatfish, said the 25 percent cut to the Amendment 80 fleet on halibut PSC was a major loss, one that would have a $30 million to $50 million impact, in Puget Sound and also at Dutch Harbor, primarily in the amount of flatfish that the fleet would be able to harvest.
“These cuts are extremely serious for us,” Woodley said. We had numerous (vessel) owners testify that at 25 percent they would be tying up boats and laying off crew.
With the 25 percent cut, there will be fewer port calls at Dutch Harbor, less fuel purchased and less landing tax paid at the Port of Dutch Harbor, which would have an impact on shore-based jobs there, he said.