Gear Modification Tests Continue in Effort to Avoid Whale Entrapments

Image: Alaska Seafood Cooperative.

Researchers with the Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC) revealed in early April that the Amendment 80 fleet is making progress in developing gear modifications to help that fleet avoid orca entrapments in the summer deepwater flatfish fishery in Alaska’s Bering Sea.

Research work in the spring of 2024 is earmarked on testing possible net modifications to effectively block the net opening, to help prevent killer whales entering the net with minimal impact to catch rates for targeted flatfish, said AKSC science projects managers Sarah Webster and John Gauvin.

They presented their research updates to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting in Anchorage on April 4.

AKSC is a group of catcher/processor fishing companies working to improve management of Bering Sea flatfish and other non-pollock groundfish fisheries. AKSC officials say they’re working with fishery scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service and other scientific institutions on research to modify fishing practices and gear to assist their members in reducing bycatch and impacts of fishing on marine habitat.

The spring work was being conducted in the world’s largest flume tank, at Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland, where researchers, fishermen and net manufacturers can evaluate different modifications with water flow simulating the way a trawl would take shape under fishing conditions, they said.

The flume tank provides an efficient way to design gear modifications so that future tests of the gear on actual fishing vessels will start with the net modification achieving the desired shape and position in the net.

“Now that we have a design, we expect to provide deterrence over the entre net opening,” Gauvin said.  “We will need to test it in the fishery this summer to determine whether it’s successful, or if we need to make further adjustments.”

Amendment 80 vessels have agreed to use the new gear when fishing in the Bering Sea deepwater flatfish fishery set to begin in May.

All vessels were also to use underwater video cameras at the start of the season to verify that the deterrence panel is positioned correctly. Acoustic data is also to be collected using hydrophones and analyzed during the 2024 season.

Amendment 80 primarily allocates several Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) non-pollock trawl groundfish fisheries among fishing sectors, and facilitates the formation of harvesting cooperatives in the non-American Fisheries Act (AFA) trawl catcher/processor sector.

The program has established a limited access privilege program for the non-AFA trawl catcher/processor sector in order to increase resource conservation and improve economic efficiency for harvesters who participate in the BSAI groundfish fisheries.