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Halibut bycatch

An Outdoor View

Posted: May 11, 2012 - 9:45am

Something big is coming up, and I don't mean a halibut. After years of study and foot-dragging, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is finally considering reducing the outrageous amount of halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska.

What's halibut bycatch? It's what happens when a commercial trawler or long-liner tries to catch cod, pollock or some other species and, in the destructive, unsustainable process, the vessel catches halibut and other fish. Under current regulations, the trawl and long-line fleet can catch more than 5 million pounds of halibut bycatch, all of which must be thrown back, a rule meant to prevent them from profiting from bycatch. Many of these halibut are dead. Reduced to an acronym -- "PSC," for Prohibited Species Catch -- they sink to the bottom, utterly wasted.

The NPFMC should've reduced halibut bycatch years ago. This bycatch is now affecting fishing opportunity and, more importantly, halibut productivity. A recent study found that 1 pound of halibut lost to bycatch equates to a loss of about 1.5 pounds of halibut in the halibut spawning biomass.

Let's put it another way: Trawlers, mainly targeting Pacific cod, are incidentally killing halibut, cutting into the number that you and I could be catching, whether we fish for halibut for sport, subsistence or commercially. What's worse, the trawlers are killing a great many halibut before the fish are mature enough to reproduce.

Most of us don't see many trawlers, but they're out there. Sometimes called draggers, they pull large nets (trawls) through the water, either on the bottom or at mid-water depths. Some are small boats, operated by families out of Alaskan ports. Others are huge factory ships owned by foreign corporations and based in Seattle.

The current regulation that allows a bycatch of 5 million pounds of Gulf of Alaska halibut hasn't significantly changed since 1986 for trawl fisheries, where most of the halibut bycatch occurs. While that regulation remains unchanged, the portion of the halibut biomass available for harvest has declined by more than 50 percent in just the past 10 years. This decline has resulted in stricter regulations for fishermen and higher costs for everyone who eats halibut. In Southeast waters, it led to charter-boat anglers being able to harvest only one halibut less than 37 inches in length per day. Charter operators in Homer, Seward, Whittier and Valdez fear the same thing will happen here.

At its June 6-12 meeting in Kodiak, the NPFMC will be considering cutting the halibut bycatch by a range of 5 to 15 percent. Let's hope council members do the right thing and choose the 15 percent reduction. It's time they stopped talking and studying and took action.
What can you do to help?

Visit the Alaska Marine Conservation Council's Web page (www.akmarine.org), and sign onto their letter to the Council. Add a note, telling the Council to reduce the bycatch by 15 percent. Tell your friends to do the same. If you can, attend the NPFMC meeting in Kodiak. If you want to continue catching and eating halibut, here's your chance to prove it.

For more information:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishing_trawler
www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc/

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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northernlights
214
Points
northernlights 05/11/12 - 10:47 am
0
0
Usualy its to late

It happens all over, Washington is a prime expample with Alaska following. Most streams, rivers and the ocean has no protection until the resouces are almost depleted. For years this has been an ongoing process, why? We have a creek here in soldonta, slykok, may not be spelling it correctly. Two years ago after a thorough study and counting the kings. Only 15 kings returned, and still nothing to protect it. How many years do we have to read reports of by-catch destroying the resources, how many years to read about the Yukon, and of the other rivers with small returnes of fish. Year after year. I am sick of it. Biologist in Soldotna are sick of it. When a plan in put forth to make changes it's thrown out, or neglected because greed is not finished with taking every salmon. Most humans are greedy and get really angry if any money might be taken out of thier pockets. Greed doesn't have common sense. Take all the fish and you will have no money for the future. I've done my best, don't know what else to do to stop it.

BigRedDog
659
Points
BigRedDog 05/12/12 - 07:49 am
0
0
Wasteful Policy

Wasting our halibut resource through trashing bye-catch should be a crime! And telling me you can reduce it bye 15% shows there might be some controlling factors not being used to do just that. But throwing a freshly killed halibut back into the sea is wrong. It's just a commercial means of wanton waste! Trying to justify it bye saying they aren't set up to handle this species while targeting others is just BS. I don't care what you think it cost to process that bye catch while stuffing your holds with target fish, you are wasting our resource. And the cost of filling your boats with sable fish will be to bring your bye catch to the dock! If these practices continue you will see the continued decline of our fisheries.
Processing all halibut bye-catch and delivering it to the dock will pay 50% of the going rate. This will also require these fish to be covered bye quota allocations to cover that weight. The quota provider will be paid the other 50% of the value for his quota share w/o leaving the harbor! Then this halibut will be accounted for in the current weight restrictions controlling 3 A halibut harvest!
Some will cry and say it won't work, but it is obvious what you are doing now won't work either! Whose bright idea was it to penalize trawlers and long liners for the almost unavoidable bye-catch in the first place? Then to cost us all by forcing the release or wasting of our valued resource only compounds the offence. Saying you can reduce bye-catch bye 15% when wasting 85% just won't cut it! That is still wasting a most prized and valued resource. Say it like it is, 5,000,0000 lbs. is worth a lot of money! Telling me you can reduce it bye 750,000 lbs but still throwing away 4,250,000 lbs just won't cut it for me dude! It's time to demand wasteful fishery practices and policies be changed. It's time to force the issue and stop the waste of our fisheries through allowing myopic regulations which will not pass basic sound practice standard, to protect our fisheries. The policies in place now are wasteful and not proactive to the facts that should govern fishery management. So give me some feed back, how are we going to go forward when repeating the mistakes of the past? It is wrong in the first place to allow wanton waste of even bye-catch fish!

jlmh
351
Points
jlmh 05/12/12 - 08:20 pm
0
0
Ban the throwing back of

Ban the throwing back of bycatch and charge a fine based on the amount of bycatch. It just needs to be higher than the going rate for that species, so that it translates to a loss at sale. After what we learned from the New England cod fishery, it's a shame we allow any trawlers in the Pacific Ocean. It is not a sustainable fishery.

Bert3
4
Points
Bert3 05/13/12 - 08:53 am
0
0
bycatch

I am a SE Alaska longliner, so beware I am prejudice.

First, longliners in SE worked together to ban trawling in the eastern gulf, not that it has saved our quota from a 70% reduction in 5 years.

As a commercial fisherman I find it uncomfortable to bash fellow fishermen. But after investing hundred of thousands of dollars just to watch it disappear or be reallocated, I am a little bitter.

One of the great things about the IFQ system is that it COULD allow for shares to be transferred between user groups. We could make bycatch fishermen buy shares to legalize the take without destroying those jobs.

Charter fishing advocates didn’t like this idea when some longliners suggested it as a way to address the long term allocation dispute. Charter guys didn’t want Charter IFQ’s. Who was supporting charters in this ideological fight, the trawl industry? After all why buy expensive quota shares when you can get them reallocated at the council for free, minus the expense of high paid lobbyist.

However try as I might I must live in the present. If longline quotas are to be significantly reduced then bycatch fishermen should share some of the responsibility to protect the resource. This is one of the few areas that I hear consensus between charter and commercial longliners. When that happens the council would be wise to listen. Please write a letter to the council to support the 15% bycatch reduction.

BigRedDog
659
Points
BigRedDog 05/14/12 - 06:44 am
0
0
Re: Bycatch

Thanks for the feedback, I think the paper should make an entire article filled with the comments and concerns like yours. I'm a weekend warrior and am lucky to get on the Inlet 10 to12 times a year. In my limited number of trips I have been recently alarmed by the number of mushy Halibut caught. Do you have the same problem with MHS (Mushy Halibut Syndrome) fish down in S.E.? I am truly more concerned about the MHS effect on our fishery than I am about just who catches the most. But your idea of having IFQ shares made available strikes a very valid point. I think your entire by-catch should be supported with IFQ shares if not through barter, then straight allocation. For the NPFMC to continue the practice of forced release of dead by-catch halibut is wanton waste. Your fishermen not accountants and for some accountant to decide wasting a resource is better than allowing you to profit from by-catch is absurd. When a fish hits the deck of a boat it's harvested, period! It's most likely that fish will have a high mortality rate and not flourish after release anyway! But the mass scale of these released fish is hard to fathom for the casual sport fishing observer. But I would bet even money that mortality rate, would greatly exceed the 15% reduction the NPFMC is planning! If the council is going to allow the continued use of proxy shares, these proxy shares should by rule be made available to by-catch fishermen such as you. All available proxy shares should be enough to cover by-catch fisheries PSC. If not prioritize these proxy IFQ shares and inform the owner these share MUST first be available to cover by-catch of folks like yourself. What better use of a resource and proxy permit than to cover what otherwise amounts to wanton waste of this valued resource. If this is what is considered management then it's time to bring those folks up to speed, your policies are killing our resource at an unacceptable rate. You MUST immediately stop the commercial wanton waste of our halibut if our fishery is to survive. Any action considered by this council to continue this wanton waste should be met with lawsuits for mismanagement. Stop the malicious wanton waste of our resource through myopic regulations! Pitting user groups against each other and pandering to the public won't save our fishery from the destruction these policies have put in place! Until every fish hitting the decks is harvested and not wasted through regulation you are doing a poor job of regulating our resource. Thanks for the input Bert3 and have a great season.

Bert3
4
Points
Bert3 05/15/12 - 09:02 am
0
0
bycatch

First, I am not a bycatch fisherman. I am a directed halibut fishermen. There is no wanton waste on my boat. I spend one day one the ocean to catch my small quota of halibut. Bycatch and dirty fishing offends me.

Second, the trawl fleet has the ability to catch the whole halibut quota in the 3a area. Some say they already catch more than the about 5,000,000 bycatch pounds they are allocated and counted in the harvest model. The trawl industry has resisted attempts to make observer coverage 100%. Their bycatch may be much higher and the reason for the decline in recruitment in the halibut resource. I believe the way forward is to reduce dirty fishing were possible. If bycatch is legalized to bring to market (without some kind of quota system), trawlers would just catch more, further reducing the shares directed longliner fishing families had to buy to keep fishing.

Right now only directed commercial longliners and SE charter operators are making sacrifices for the good of the halibut resource. Bycatch fishermen need to contribute also.

Please write letters to support the reduction in halibut bycatch.

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