Alaska Legislators Urge Big Cut on Halibut Bycatch

A bipartisan group of Alaska legislators whose constituencies are dependent on the halibut resource are asking federal fisheries managers to reduce bycatch limits on halibut by 50 percent in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries.

The 12 legislators noted in a letter to Dan Hull, chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, that over 62 million pounds of halibut has been caught, killed and discarded as bycatch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands over the past decade. Meanwhile, landings of halibut as the target species “have declined from an already alarmingly small 52 percent of the total removals to only 34 percent,” they said. It’s a situation, they said, that has continued for too long.

In 2014 alone, the BSAI trawl fisheries killed and discarded seven times more individual halibut than the directed fishery in the same region landed, with the bycatch total overwhelmingly comprised of juveniles weighing less than five pounds on average, they said.

In tagging studies conducted by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, 70 percent to 90 percent of halibut tagged in the Bering Sea were removed in the Gulf of Alaska, so therefore, the waste allowed in the BSAI is adversely affecting halibut users far beyond the Bering Sea, they said.

The impacts of this bycatch on Alaskans have been considerable, they said. Meanwhile conservation measures implemented over the past 15 years to address declining halibut stocks have fallen disproportionately onto the backs of halibut harvesters all over the state.

The bycatch limits for the BSAI trawl fleet has hardly changed in decades, but catch limits for holders of individual fishing quota have been cut by 70 percent and charter fleet harvests have been reduced by 50 percent in some waters, they said.

The letter was signed by Senators Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; Donny Olson, D-Golovin; Dennis Egan, D-Juneau; and Peter Micchiche, R-Soldotna, and Representatives Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham; Bob Herron, D-Bethel; Neal Foster, D-Nome; Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau; Paul Seaton, R-Homer; Johnathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; Dan Ortiz, NA-Ketchikan; and Jim Colver, R-Palmer.