Groundfish, Halibut Harvest Retention Higher in BSAI Than GOA

Preliminary data on the first year of the restructured North Pacific
groundfish and halibut observer program shows greater overall retention of the
harvest in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands than in the Gulf of Alaska.

The preliminary findings presented to the North Pacific Fishery Management
Council meeting in Anchorage in early October came from officials with the
National Marine Fisheries Service.

For halibut alone, the preliminary data showed that an estimated 1,532 metric
tons of halibut were retained by hook and line catcher vessels in the Bering
Sea and Aleutian Islands between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30, with an estimated 269
metric tons discarded. In the Gulf of Alaska, the halibut harvest in the
catcher vessel hook and line fleet was 8,463 metric tons, and an estimated
9,205 metric tons discarded.

For sablefish, the preliminary estimate showed that catcher processors on hook
and line vessels in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands retained an estimated
325 metric tons, while discarding 10 metric tons. In the Gulf of Alaska, hook
and line catcher processors harvested an estimated 629 metric tons of
sablefish, and discarded 10 metric tons.

The report specified, by species, the observed total metric tons of fish
retained and discarded in each area, plus a second row of figures showing
estimates of all catch on all fishing trips regardless of whether it was
observed. The report does not provide an explanation of why so many metric tons
of groundfish and halibut from either area were discarded.

Some of it has to do with what the industry refers to as “bad actors,”
harvesters who continue to fish in areas where there is a high amount of fish
they are not targeting, and some has to do with myriad fishery management

In the case of significant discards of halibut in Gulf of Alaska hook and line
fisheries, for example, regulations dictate that halibut quota shareholders
must discard all halibut below the 32-inch minimum size limit. The commercial
halibut fishery has been challenged for several years now not only by decreased
abundance of halibut, but by the decreased size of halibut. Research to date
has not pinpointed why so many halibut are not growing as fast and large as
they used to.

The NPFMC can make recommendations, but only the International Pacific Halibut
Commission can change regulations restricting the size of halibut that can be
retained by individual fishing quota holders and others who catch halibut as
bycatch in other directed fisheries.

Regulations governing the sablefish fishery, by comparison, dictate that
sablefish quota shareholders must retain all sablefish captured, regardless of

Another contributing factor to high halibut discard in hook and line fisheries
is the capture of halibut by several hook and line fishery vessels lacking
halibut IFQ.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission has calculated that the mortality
rate of halibut discarded in the hook and line fishery is 16 percent.

The preliminary retention and discard data from all observed fisheries will be
updated as the observer program continues.