Story last updated at 5/2/2012 - 1:02 pm
It has taken a quarter of a century, but fishery managers are finally poised to take action to reduce the five million pounds of halibut taken as bycatch in Gulf of Alaska fisheries. Industry watchers are hoping that public comments will sway them to make the largest cuts under consideration.
Currently, 2,300 metric tons of halibut bycatch is allowed in the GOA groundfish fisheries. That is further broken down to 2,000 metric tons for the trawl sector and 300 metric tons for hook and line fisheries, primarily the cod fleet. Those are the two fisheries that have the highest amounts of halibut bycatch.
At its June meeting in Kodiak, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) will vote to cut the Gulf "prohibited species" limits by 5, 10 or 15 percent.
"These are fairly small cuts at this juncture but it's a first step to continually reducing halibut bycatch," said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, member of the council's advisory panel.
"It has been 25 years since the bycatch limits were established and they have remained relatively unchanged since then," she said. "In this same time period the commercial halibut catch in the Gulf has been reduced 63 percent. There are a large number of people that depend on that resource and these cuts have had and will continue to have dramatic effects on our fisheries and businesses and community economies."
The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which manages the halibut fisheries, estimates that each pound of bycatch results in lost yield ranging from .9 pounds to 1.1 pounds, depending on the region. This means one pound of halibut caught as bycatch results in 1.5-1.7 pounds of lost spawning biomass, according to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC). Because the IPHC manages fisheries based on the biomass of the halibut stock, bycatch has a direct impact on all halibut harvesters.
Sport fishermen also are feeling the pinch. The annual bycatch total exceeds the combined harvest level for the sport halibut fisheries in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, which together was more than 4.4 million pounds in 2010.
"Many people in Alaska and around the nation are concerned with the condition of the halibut stocks and council members need to hear from people," Peterson said.
The AMCC has generated a sign on letter that provides an easy way for people to show their support for the 15 percent reduction. It will be presented as a petition to the NPFMC when it meets in early June. Kodiak is the fishing community that will be most affected by the council's bycatch decision.
"Halibut bycatch is first up on the agenda and it is critical that the voting council members hear from people when they are in Kodiak," Peterson said. "Every testimony matters and they really like to hear from community members."
Find the bycatch petition at www.akmarine.org. Comments also can now be provided to the council via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alaska vs. World - Most fishing and seafood processing is done out of sight and it can be easy to lose track of what's crossing the docks - and where Alaska fits in the global seafood picture.
Data from 2010 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute show that pollock makes up 44 percent of the landed tonnage statewide, other groundfish at 22 percent, salmon at 17 percent, Pacific cod at 11 percent, shellfish and herring both at 2 percent and halibut and black cod produced one percent.
Salmon made up 30 percent of the total seafood value, followed by pollock at 25 percent, shellfish at 15 percent, halibut at 10 percent, cod at 9 percent, sablefish at 6 percent and herring was worth 2 percent.
Broadening the picture: Alaska produces over half of all seafood landings in the U.S. and 90 percent of the nation's wild salmon. Globally, 12 percent of salmon comes from Alaska and 10 percent for crab. In all, Alaska produces just 2 percent of the world's total seafood.
Speaking of world seafood harvests - thousands of tons of wild fish are caught each year to feed farmed fish. Spanish researchers at the University of Oviedo for the first time analyzed DNA fragments from fish-based feeds used in aquaria and salmon farms. The results showed eight species high on the food chain are used, including anchovies, whiting, cod, herring and mackerel. Some of the feeds are made from byproducts produced from seafood processing, but much comes directly from fisheries. The researchers said using fish from commercial fisheries as feed does little to minimize the exploitation of natural fish populations. They "urgently" suggested replacing wild fish in fish feeds with other proteins.
Fish watch - It has been a long winter for Bering Sea crabbers who, since January, have taken about 75 percent of their 80 million pound snow crab harvest. Crabbing also continues for blue kings at St. Matthew Island, where there is a 2 million pound quota this year. There is little to no jig effort for cod around the Aleutian Islands, but the fishery will remain open until the 5.5 million pound quota is caught or until June 9, whichever comes first.
In the Gulf, jigging for cod is going strong, and 117 boats have caught nearly half of their 7.8 million pound allocation. Kodiak herring also is more popular this year with up to 35 boats on the grounds, double last season. Halibut fishing continues slow but steady. So far about 12 percent of the 24 million pound catch limit has been landed. Sablefish deliveries are at 16 percent of the 29 million pound quota. At Prince William Sound, trawlers are targeting side stripe shrimp with a quota of 145,000 pounds. All herring fisheries remain closed in PWS again this year.
Shrimping opens in Southeast on May 1st along with the spring troll season for kings. (The winter fishery closed April 27.) A lingcod fishery opens May 16 with a regional harvest of more than 330,000 pounds. Southeast Divers are finally back in the water after almost a two month hold, due to high PSP levels in geoduck clams. just over 100,000 pounds of clams remain for harvest in two regions.
The first salmon openers for 2012 are kicking kick off at the Stikine and Taku rivers in the Panhandle on May 7, with Copper River following in mid-May. And once again, there will be no commercial fishery this summer for Yukon River kings.