The halibut crisis in the Bering Sea and the potential for much stricter bycatch limits has the factory longliners and at-sea processing trawlers weighing in with comments to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which meets Jan. 26-30. That’s something they have not previously done.
The directed fishery for halibut could go as low as 370,000 pounds next season, while nearly 5 million pounds could be tossed overboard as bycatch.
The factory longliners and trawlers tend to direct their efforts at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets bycatch levels.
The Alaska Seafood Cooperative, the Freezer Longliner Coalition and the At-Sea Processors Association all weighed in.
All are touting their voluntary bycatch reduction efforts, and all are suggesting that the actual bycatch will not be as much as IPHC is setting aside, saying that the directed fishery should have much more fish available than IPHC staff is recommending.
ASC noted that they have applied for an expedited Experimental Fishing Permit that would allow them to sort fish on deck and get the halibut back in the water much more quickly, reducing mortality.
Currently, the whole catch must be dumped into tanks below decks so that observers can accurately record prohibited species catches.
The FLC points out that the 2015 decision table calls for an 18 percent increase in total bycatch, and that “the apparent increase is not supported by IPHC and NMFS bycatch reports.”
“This apparent increasing trend ... is contrary to the declining trend in bycatch that is found in the IPHC Bycatch Work Group report and in NMFS management reports.”
The longliners also were quick to point out that trawlers were responsible for 86 percent of halibut bycatch in 2013 and their sector for 14 percent.
APA officials laid out their catch limit proposal as presented to NPFMC that details steps taken or suggested to reduce halibut bycatch.
They include communicating best practices among different companies and fleets, use of halibut excluder panels that allow flatfish to swim out of trawls targeting pollock, funding halibut research at Alaska Pacific University, and providing direct financial incentives in the form of a competition that rewards the vessel with the lowest bycatch numbers.
This new effort to sway IPHC members indicates these companies are concerned about the possibility of more severe restrictions on their bycatch levels and their fisheries, but it remains to be seen what effect it may have.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org