The Alaska Marine Conservation Council, prompted by a draft report from the halibut bycatch work group, is asking the International Pacific Halibut Commissioner to take a proactive approach to reducing halibut bycatch.
AMCC wants the IPHC to consider requiring levels of observer coverage that produce reliable, accurate estimates of bycatch mortality across all fisheries and to establish targets for bycatch reduction in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea trawl fisheries. AMCC also asked the IPHC to pursue intermediate and long-term bycatch reduction management strategies with a history of success – including setting bycatch limits – and to maintain the prohibition on retention of halibut caught by trawl gear.
Becca Robbin Gisclair, senior fisheries policy advisor for AMCC, said the halibut bycatch work group’s report offers an interesting summary of bycatch and bycatch monitoring, along with some alarming bycatch numbers. According to the report, said Gisclair, the bycatch rate in the Gulf of Alaska since the 1980s has been three to five times of that in the Bering Sea.
But, said Gisclair, the most alarming part of the report is the recommendation to reduce bycatch by allowing trawlers to retain and sell halibut bycatch.
The report states, in part, “removing the discard requirement and, instead, requiring 100 percent retention of all sizes of halibut could lead to the complete elimination of trawl fishery bycatch.”
“From our perspective though, changing the label of these halibut does not lead to the elimination of trawl fishery bycatch,” said she “It just changes what we call it.”
Kelly Harrell, executive director of AMCC, said in her letter to the IPHC, that allowing retention and sale of halibut caught as bycatch creates many more problems than it solves. “It eliminates the incentive to reduce bycatch, increases mortality to the halibut stock, has profound ecological impacts and likely will have market impacts as well,” she said. “Given the critical state of the halibut resource, the IPHC must remain focused on the end goal of reducing halibut bycatch.”
The IPHC was scheduled to take up the report and comments during its interim meeting Dec. 4-5 (today and tomorrow) in Seattle, and again at the IPHC annual meeting Jan 13-17 in Seattle.