April 1, 2013 | Vol. 69, No. 04

Halibut Bycatch Issues Moving Slowly Through NPFMC

Analysis has been initiated by federal fisheries managers on a focused data collection program to be established prior to implementation of a trawl bycatch management program in the Gulf of Alaska.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council took that action at its February meeting in Portland, Ore., noting that given the potential for implementation of catch shares in both the central and western Gulf of Alaska, the data collection effort will include participants in federal trawl groundfish fisheries from both management areas.

The council also addressed the next step in development of a Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management program. After reviewing a staff discussion paper focusing on the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requirements for development of a catch share program and taking public testimony, the council revised its purpose and need statement to broaden the scope to include all federal Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. A control date of March 1 was approved for the Western Gulf. Any catch history after this date may not be credited in any future allocation system developed for the Western Gulf trawl fishery, the council noted in its newsletter on the February meeting.

Bycatch in commercial fisheries has been under extensive discussion before the council for years. While the industry has seen much effort in trying to reduce bycatch, thousands of metric tons of seafood still are counted in the mortality data.

The amount of bycatch in different fisheries is measured through observer coverage and this year, through the restructured observer program, for example, all hook and line catcher processors are mandated to carry observers. Prior to 2013, observers on hook and line catcher processers less than 125 feet were required to carry observers only 30 percent of the time, but now they must have observers all the time, noted Mary Furuness, a resource management specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau.

For the 2012 fishery, halibut mortality in the freezer longline fleet was estimated at 574 metric tons, out of an allowed limit of 833 metric tons.

Furuness noted that in 1996 the halibut mortality was 888 metric tons in the freezer longline fishery, including 788 metric tons for the Pacific cod fishery. Vessels with crew onboard who held halibut IFQ and had not caught their limit, were allowed to retain the halibut.

The NPFMC has passed a reduction in halibut bycatch for the Gulf of Alaska, but it is not in place yet. NMFS staff is working on the proposed rule and hopes to get it into place for 2014, Furuness said.

Also, on the agenda for the NPFMC meeting in September in Anchorage, is an updated discussion paper on Bering Sea/Aleutian Island halibut prohibited species catch. Halibut mortality for all gear in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands in 2012 was measured at 2,912 metric tons, out of a limit of 3,200 metric tons. That compared with Gulf of Alaska total halibut mortality for trawl gear of 1,713 metric tons out of a 2,000 metric ton limit.