Opinion – Decrease Trawl Halibut Bycatch
From the Fleet
The Seattle longline fleet (hook and line) has harvested bering sea halibut continuously for more than 70 years. The commercial hook and line fishery is one of the most environmentally conscious fishing practices, and the Seattle longline fleet celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.
Twenty years ago, halibut in the bering sea was divided between the directed fishery and the trawl industry for bycatch. A directed fishery is legal retainable quota as set by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and is harvested and delivered to the consumer. The directed fishery share is dependent upon the abundance of the halibut stock, but the trawl bycatch, largely juvenile, is a fixed amount. Twenty years ago no one thought that the halibut resource would have declined to such a state that the trawl bycatch portion would be greater than the directed fishery. Not setting the trawl bycatch amount to the corresponding halibut population was a grave mistake.
The trawl industry has only been required to have modest reductions in their bycatch since the passage of the the Magnuson Stevens Act of 1976. That act specifically states that bycatch and waste must be reduced or eliminated to the greatest extent possible. When the bycatch is higher than the directed fishery something is wrong and is contrary to the principles set forth in the Magnuson Stevens Act.
For 2015 the bering sea trawlers will be allowed a halibut bycatch of six million pounds while the halibut directed fishery in the main bering sea area will be reduced potentially to 370,000 pounds for conservation purposes.
Bycatch caught by the trawl fleet negatively affects every fishery in the bering sea and Gulf of Alaska, including halibut, salmon, crab and herring. While it is true that the trawl industry is worth billions of dollars, it's not right that this one industry should preempt all the others. bering sea halibut migrate into the Gulf of Alaska, and by extension support the halibut fishery there along with the halibut fishery in Southeast Alaska, Canada and Washington as well as the recreation halibut industry.
We can't allow the trawl industry to preempt all other user groups from this iconic fish.
This situation has become so dire that the halibut directed fishery in the bering sea will effectively be shut down causing irreparable economic damage to not only our Seattle fleet, but also small boat operators based in Alaskan communities who have invested heavily into their infrastructure to allow their community to take advantage of the halibut resource. We are facing a situation where these native fishermen will be literally left idle while they watch the lights of the trawlers wasting the resource from their front doors.
The halibut bycatch in the bering sea must be linked with abundance. On the coast of California, Oregon and Washington the trawl industry was recently rationalized in such a manner to where each vessel is responsible for a fixed amount of halibut bycatch to prosecute their other fisheries. This has resulted in a dramatic lowering of their halibut bycatch, (Washington state was a leader in this accomplishment).
The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council sets the regulations for fisheries in the bering sea and Gulf of Alaska. This council is made up of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and National Marine Fisheries Service representatives. The Washington, Oregon and NMFS representatives have gone lockstep in supporting the trawl industry and withdrawing support from the small longline and native halibut users in the bering sea. This longline industry has a very small environmental footprint compared to the massive industrial trawl fleet.
It is imperative to save Seattle's historic halibut fishing industry by decreasing the trawl allotted bycatch percentage.
Please contact Governor Inslee with these two demands;
1. That he instruct our Washington state members of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to vote to make trawl bycatch in proportion to the halibut population.
2. To instruct our NPFMC members to be leaders in the fight for halibut bycatch reduction as our Washington State members were at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
To Write or Call:
Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Paul Clampitt is the owner of the F/V Augustine, a member of the fishing vessel Owners Association and a member of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee to the Department of Commerce.