Alaska Legislators Back Abundance-Based Management of Halibut Bycatch

Four Alaska legislators have added their support to a proposal before the North Pacific Management Council to base allowable incidental halibut catch in Bering Sea groundfish fisheries to halibut abundance.

The issue is on the agenda today for the federal fisheries board’s spring meeting, normally held in Anchorage, but being held virtually this year because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Directed halibut harvesters have been working within the NPFMC since 2015 to identify alternatives and analyses to mitigate risks that static Prohibited Species Catch limits in the Bering Sea present in times of low halibut abundance.

Action taken would impact halibut users in Southeast Alaska represented by the four House members: Sara Hannan, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Dan Ortiz and Andi Story. The four legislators told the Council in a letter in support of revising halibut bycatch management that the proposed management alternative would ensure sustained participation of fishing communities.

At this meeting, the Council is expected to perform an initial review of a draft environmental impact statement on the matter and take action as necessary. The document to be reviewed analyzes a proposed management measure to link Pacific halibut prohibited species catch limits for the Amendment 80 commercial groundfish trawl sector in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to halibut abundance. The objective is to minimize halibut PSC to the extent practicable under the Magnuson-stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act National Standard 9 and to achieve optimum yield in the BSAI groundfish fisheries on a continuing bases under the Magnuson-stevens Act National Standard 1.

The Council said action taken should provide incentives for the Amendment 80 sector to minimize halibut mortality at all times. Achieving these objectives could result in additional harvest opportunities for the commercial halibut fishery, Council staff noted.

The Amendment 80 program, implemented by the council in 2008, allocated BSAI yellowfin sole, flathead sole, rock sole, Atka mackerel and Aleutian Islands Pacific Ocean perch to non-American Fisheries Act head and gut trawl catcher processors.

National Fisheries Standard 1 mandates that conservation and management measures prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, optimum yield from each federal fishery.

National Standard 9 mandates that conservation and management measures minimize bycatch, and to the extent bycatch cannot be avoided, to minimize mortality of such bycatch.