JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska food banks and soup kitchens should be getting the millions of pounds of halibut bycatch thrown overboard every year, says the head of the Alaska Food Coalition.
But Trevor Jones says the law won't let him donate the fish.
The coalition applied for an exempted fishing permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service that would give it permission to collect the fish and give it to charity, but the service said no.
''We denied the request not because it wasn't a good idea or that we don't support donation of bycatch, but rather under the International Pacific Halibut Commission regulations it is illegal for a vessel that harvests fish to retain trawl-caught halibut,'' Sue Salveson, chief of the NMFS Alaska region Sustainable Fisheries Division, told the Juneau Empire.
Trawl vessels catch pollock, sole, rockfish and other fish by dragging a net along the ocean bottom.
The regulation says halibut can be retained only when caught with hook-and-line gear, said Gregg Williams, commission program manager for research and fish management.
''It only allows it to take place out of Dutch Harbor, and they have to have in their possession a prohibited species donation permit,'' Williams said.
Trawl vessels in Dutch Harbor that can't sort their catch at sea are allowed to donate halibut bycatch, dead or alive, to food banks. That fish is distributed throughout the country by SeaShare, a Washington-state-based organization, Jones said.
Jones' organization wants to donate only dead fish, he said, pointing to halibut commission figures that put the total amount of dead halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska at 4.4 million pounds last year. About 3.2 million of that fish was trawl-caught, according to commission statistics.
Williams said the commission prohibits even the retention of dead halibut because it's difficult to ascertain whether a halibut is dead.
''You can't really tell which are dead and which are alive. Halibut do have a very high survival potential. Even a halibut that might appear dead, from our research studies has a 10 percent survival potential,'' he said.
Jones said the coalition plans to resubmit its proposal to the NMFS although he has no plans to appeal the halibut commission regulations.
Jones said more than a dozen gulf fishermen and a couple of processors have volunteered to participate in his venture.
''I went into the Alaska Draggers' Association annual meeting to present on the project. I had put together this great speech as to why they should do this, to try to convince them. I didn't even get a chance to give my speech at all because they were so onboard,'' he said.
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