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Reduce waste of our halibut

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: May 17, 2012 - 8:50am  |  Updated: May 18, 2012 - 8:50am

Waste of our Alaskan fishery resources is in the news again as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approaches its June 6 meeting.  A proposal has finally reached the table to reduce bycatch by 15 percent. Bycatch is the allowed death and wastage of halibut from fisheries. I call this a mild reduction but there are two other options that would reduce the kill rate by only 10 percent or even a meager 5 percent. I hope Alaskans from all walks of life will call or send in a short note by letter or email to push our resource managers to finally take this baby step to control the killing of unwanted halibut during the course of another fishery. I say small step because the 15 percent bycatch reduction is in comparison to commercial halibut catch reductions of over 50 percent and in comparison to the current issue of potentially limiting the sport guided catch from a two fish daily limit to only one fish per day. How crazy is it to limit Alaskans access to their halibut resource while leaving the Gulf of Alaska allowable waste at over 5 million pounds per year? That is more poundage than the entire sport fishery. Since most bycatch is killed while below legal size, the waste is actually a higher number of fish than the entire commercial fishery.

No one knows why but the halibut growth rate has slowed for many years. Unfortunately, this means that fisheries that catch unwanted juvenile fish do so for a longer time on each year class before that group of fish reach commercial size of 32 inches. In other words, the small sized fish stock is susceptible to more years of that bycatch killing before the year class reaches harvestable size. Also, because bycatch has been set as fixed poundage, the bycatch becomes a larger portion of the entire fish stock as the total halibut population weight shrinks.

Senator Ted Stevens and I had a conversation over 15 years ago about why the federal government allowed some net-loss bottom trawl fisheries. He advised that we should "just shut them down" at the Management Council and that there was no federal requirement to keep such a fishery going if it destroyed more value for others in the crab and halibut fisheries than the value created by its targeted fishing. However -- fish politics being what it is -- this is the first real action for the Gulf of Alaska since that time. Although a 15 percent reduction doesn't seem like much compared to Ted Stevens' suggestion for a high bycatch fishery, after 15 years of waste it would be a start and would set the Management Council on the pathway of saving our halibut resource for real utilization by Alaskans. 

Alaska has 6 of the 11 voting member seats on the North Pacific Management Council including the Commissioner of The Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Governor, although not directly involved, sets the governmental direction for resource utilization and development in Alaska. If those Alaska members vote together we can ensure proper resource development of the fisheries so vital to Alaskan communities. I urge Alaskans to have their voices heard about limiting halibut waste by contacting the Governor's office and the Council members. The governor's office is (907) 465-3500 or 269-7450 in Anchorage or email governor@alaska.gov. The Council members and additional information can be found at www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc , or email your comment to the Council at npfmc.comments@noaa.gov

Those people know the details of the issue; they just need to know that you as the Alaskan public want them to take ACTION to reduce the waste of your resource by at least 15 percent.

Paul Seaton has been a legislator for 10 years, is co-chair of the House Resources Committee, was a founding member of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, was a commercial halibut fisherman from 1974 through 2009, and lives in Homer.

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