Alaska Board of Fisheries Takes Action on Rockfish Proposals

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has voted down a proposal to increase the sport allocation of demersal shelf rockfish to 25 percent, but also approved a conservation measure designed to improve survival rates for bycatch rockfish.

The action came earlier this week at the state board meeting in Ketchikan on measures proposed by the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization.

Back in 2006, the state board made an allocation for rockfish in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska area, based on historic harvest, with 84 percent going to commercial fishermen and 16 percent to the guide charter fleet.

“They told both sectors to learn to live within their allocations,” said Linda Behnken, ALFA’s executive director. “We spent a couple of years figuring out how we could help our fleet get better at avoiding rockfish.”

ALFA developed the Fishery Conservation Network, within which some 70 commercial fishermen worked together to reduce rockfish bycatch rates and map seafloor habitat. They gathered and verified catch and bycatch rate data in the longline halibut and sablefish fisheries, collected bathymetric data and napped areas of the ocean floor, and compiled detailed naps to help them avoid seafloor structures where rockfish congregate.

The boats within the fishery conservation network reduced their bycatch by 20 percent., and the commercial fleet stayed within its allocation, Behnken said. The charter industry did not stay within its limit, said rockfish bycatch was unavoidable, and that they needed a larger allocation for sport harvest, but the board voted them down.

ALFA and SEAGO came together however on consensus language to develop a key conservation measure regarding demersal shelf rockfish, in a regulation approved by the state board that goes into effect in 2013.

That measure is designed to increase the survival rate of rockfish released as a result of existing bag and catch limits. SEAGO executive director Heath Hilyard said the new regulation stipulates that as of 2013 charter operators will have a deep-water release mechanism onboard for rockfish. Such devices are anticipated to result in lowering mortality rates from as high as 90 percent to as low as 10 percent, if fish are handled very carefully and returned immediately to depth and not caught in really deep water.

“What is most significant is that the two sectors, that have been traditionally at odds regarding a variety of fisheries management issues, were able to come together on a new regulation, Hilyard said.