Pribilof Islanders Ask NOAA Fisheries to Reduce
Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch

NOAA Fisheries is being asked by the state of Alaska and representatives of the Pribilof Island community of Saint Paul to institute emergency action to lower halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea groundfish fisheries.

The request to Assistant Administrator of NOAA Fisheries Eileen Sobeck came in late December from Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the city of Saint Paul, the Tribal government of Saint Paul and Tanadguix Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation.

The four entities noted that the state of Alaska and six Alaska members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council have already urged the Commerce Department to institute emergency action to prevent a reduction in the allowable catch in the directed halibut fishery critical to the area’s economy.

According to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, due to an increase in Bering Sea Area 4CDE bycatch levels from 2013 to 2014, the recommended total allowable directed halibut catch for that area would fall from 1.285 million pounds in 2014 to 370,000 pounds in 2015.

This would result in only a 73,000-pound community development quota halibut fishery for Saint Paul. Such a small amount of poundage would be insufficient for both an economically viable fishery and also processing at the local Trident Seafoods plant in Saint Paul, they said in a letter to Sobeck.

Bycatch of halibut in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries has become a constant source of friction between those directly engaged in groundfish fisheries and those holding quota shares in directed halibut fisheries. During the December NPFMC meeting in Anchorage, council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak offered a lengthy motion for emergency action to decrease halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea, and when the motion failed, council member Sam Cotten, the acting Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game, along with five other Alaskans on the council, sought help from Sobeck in lowering that bycatch by 33 percent in 2015.

That would leave the directed halibut fishery with the right to harvest 960,000 pounds of halibut.