Wednesday, June 24, 2015

IPHC Asks NMFS to Take Further Steps in BSAI Bycatch

The International Pacific Halibut Commission is asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to take further steps to implement necessary bycatch reductions of halibut in Bering Sea/Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries.

The request this week came in a letter addressed to Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for fisheries.

IPHC chair Jim Balsiger and vice-chair Paul Ryall noted that Sobeck had made recommendations in January that the IPHC adopt 2015 catch limits for IPHC Area 4CDE that provided “adequate harvest opportunities” for the area. The recommendation, they said, was based on Sobeck’s commitment to reduce halibut bycatch in the BSAI region and the Gulf of Alaska.

“We recognize that the council has a number of considerations concerning prohibited species catch limits, but the limits adopted by the council fall far short of those required to support the catch limits adopted by the commission,” they said. “The point of greatest concern to the commission is that, in establishing a BSAI PSC limit only 0.7 percent below 2014 bycatch, the council has not ensured any progress towards the meaningful bycatch reductions that are required to bring halibut management back into an acceptable conservation framework.”

The commission’s catch limit decisions for 2015 were based on an expectation that further bycatch mortality reductions would be implemented in 2016 to support catch limits adopted by the commission, Balsiger and Ryall said.

While the IPHC understands that the trawl sector may undertake some voluntary bycatch reduction this year, in the absence of regulatory revisions which might allow measures such as deck sorting, previous experience indicates that it is unlikely that these voluntary actions will achieve the necessary mortality reductions, they said. Indeed, they said, testimony from trawl captains at the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sitka indicated that they had hopes for only very limited reductions beyond the current bycatch levels.

Accordingly, they continued, the IPHC requests that Sobeck now outline her plan for further steps to implement and effectively monitor those bycatch reductions of halibut in the BSAI.

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