Alaska gets mixed fishing review

Bycatch rates bad, attempts to fix them good

Posted: Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A report critical of national fishery bycatch rates raised alarms over the total bycatch discarded by federally managed fisheries in Alaska. But the report also found room to praise federally managed fisheries in Alaska for progressive management policies and bycatch reductions.

“Only the North Pacific Fishery Management Council stands out above the rest for its efforts to address bycatch through a variety of management measures supported by intensive bycatch data collection,” according to the report.

The report, titled Turning a Blind Eye, was issued by the Marine Fish Conservation Network, a coalition of conservation organizations, and scrutinized the bycatch rates of the nation’s eight federally managed fisheries, including the North Pacific Management Council.

“Compared to the rest of the country, they spoke pretty well of Alaska,” said Dave Benton, the executive director for the Marine Conservation Alliance, a coalition of Alaska seafood processors, harvesters, support industries and coastal communities.

Although the report lists several federally managed fisheries in Alaska among the nation’s “dirtiest fisheries” due to the volume of fish they discard, Alaska fisheries compared favorably to other listed fisheries when analyzed by percent of catch discarded.

In 2002, for example, the South Atlantic shrimp fishery discarded more than 77 million pounds of bycatch, approximately 27 million pounds less than the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery, which discarded more than 104 million pounds, and approximately 276 million less than the Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands groundfish fishery, which discarded more than 353 million pounds.

But a different picture emerges when the bycatch is analyzed as a percent of each fishery’s catch.

Whereas the South Atlantic shrimp fishery caught 2.95 pounds of fish for every pound of targeted fish caught, for example, the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery only caught .33 pounds of bycatch for every pound of targeted fish and the Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands groundfish fishery caught only .09 pounds of bycatch for every pound of targeted fish.

And as the Marine Fish Conservation Network notes, the bycatch due to North Pacific groundfish fisheries dropped by 50 percent from 1996 to 2002, despite an overall increase in the targeted catch.

The Marine Conservation Alliance credited the use of new gear technology and elimination off-the-books for the reduced bycatch.

“We have about the best monitoring program in the United States,” Benton said.

According to the Marine Fish Conservation Network’s report, stationing independent observers to collect and report data on landings on boats is one of the best ways to get an accurate picture of bycatch numbers.

In Alaska’s federally managed fisheries, all boats over 125 feet have observers on board all of the time and boats from 60 to 124 feet have observers 30 percent of the time.

While the overall bycatch of the groundfish fisheries dropped, however, the bycatch has and continues to vary among different species from one year to the next. In 1996, for example, 161,000 salmon were discarded by the fishery. But in 2004 the salmon bycatch leaped to an all time high of 500,000 fish.

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