Pressure is mounting on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to substantially reduce the amount of Pacific halibut taken incidentally in Bering Sea/Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries.
A diverse group of halibut users, including commercial, recreational and subsistence harvester, halibut dependent communities, community development quota groups, and an environmental organization, is asking Alaska’s congressional delegation to support their request for lower bycatch.
Their appeal comes on the heels of a letter to the council from a bipartisan group of Alaska legislators who want the federal fisheries managers to reduce bycatch limits on halibut by 50 percent in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries.
Sixteen halibut user groups this past week appealed for support from Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young. They said that while the directed halibut fisheries have seen extreme cuts in their quotas over the past decade, those catching the halibut as incidental harvest have been permitted by regulation to catch and discard halibut up to the limit set more than 20 years ago, when the halibut resource was double what it is now.
The current BSAI halibut bycatch limit of 4,426 metric tons legally allows up to 7.32 million pounds of halibut to be caught and discarded overboard as bycatch in groundfish fisheries, they said. Meanwhile, this year directed commercial halibut harvesters in the Bering Sea are limited to 3.815 million pounds.
Last year BSAI trawl fisheries caught and discarded seven times more halibut than the directed fishery landed in the BSAI, they said.
The letter was signed by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Alaska Trollers Association, Aleut Community of Saint Paul Tribal Government, Aleutians East Borough, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Corp., Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, City of St. Paul, Coal Point Seafood Co., Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association, Halibut Association of North America, Homer Charter Association, North Pacific Fisheries Association, Pioneer Alaskan Fisheries, Inc., Tanadguxic Corp., and United Fishermen’s Marketing Association.
Any comments from the congressional delegation, plus those of the 12 legislators are likely to be among dozens heard as the federal fisheries management group takes final action during its June meeting in Sitka on a measure that proposes up to a 50 percent reduction in the cap on halibut bycatch in BSAI fisheries.
Participants in the groundfish fisheries have told the council that they have already been reducing the bycatch by a combination of efforts ranging from equipment to exclude halibut to avoiding certain areas where halibut are abundant.
The council has scheduled nearly three entire days of its June 1-9 meeting in Sitka for this issue.