Story last updated at 12/10/2008 - 11:29 am
NOAA Fisheries has proposed changes to the rules governing the use of other species caught in the expanding arrowtooth flounder fishery in the Gulf of Alaska.
Since the early 1970s the biomass of arrowtooth flounder has increased sevenfold in the Gulf of Alaska, according to NOAA Fisheries scientists, and arrowtooth flounder are currently the most abundant groundfish species in the Gulf ecosystem.
"We want to reduce discards of marketable groundfish such as flathead sole, rockfish, and skates caught during the arrowtooth flounder fishery in the Gulf of Alaska," said Doug Mecum, Acting Administrator of the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries.
In 1998, 13,000 tons of arrowtooth flounder were caught in all fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, but only 2,057 tons were retained. In 2007, 25,371 tons were caught and 15,108 tons - 60 percent of the catch - were retained, processed and marketed. In the arrowtooth fishery itself about 80 percent of the arrowtooth is kept for processing. The rest are discarded because they are too small to keep or because they are damaged.
Under the proposed regulations, fishermen would be allowed to keep certain amounts of deep-water flatfish, rex sole, flathead sole, shallow-water flatfish, Atka mackerel, skates, rockfish and sablefish caught in their arrowtooth flounder nets, when the directed fisheries for the non-arrowtooth species are closed. As is currently the case, all catch of those species would count against the total allowable catch of those species.
Comments on the proposed regulations must be received by the agency no later than December 26, 2008. Details can be found at: www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/prules/73fr71592.pdf
The commercial market for arrowtooth flounder is small but growing. The large flatfish's flesh contains enzymes which cause the muscles to break down when cooked. However, researchers have discovered the enzymes can be neutralized. Also, if the fish are chilled to near zero or processed immediately and frozen, the enzyme does not break down the flesh.
The approximately 25,000 tons of arrowtooth flounder currently caught, processed and sold each year from the Gulf of Alaska go mostly to Asian markets, where it is eaten as a less expensive flounder-type fish or where certain parts are used raw as sashimi or sushi in place of other, more expensive raw fish. Arrowtooth can also be used in the manufacture of surimi.
When small, arrowtooth flounder are prey for Pacific cod and halibut. But the tables turn: as arrowtooth mature, they being to prey on shrimp, capelin, euphasids, herring and pollock. By the time arrowtooth are larger than 40 centimeters (16 inches), they are eating mostly pollock with some herring, capelin euphasids, shrimp and cephalopods thrown in. Marine mammals such as Steller sea lions eat arrowtooth flounder.
The species is found from the waters of central California to the Bering Sea, mostly in waters from about 100 to 300 meters deep, though they have been found at depths from 20 to 800 meters.
Scientists estimate that the allowable biological catch of arrowtooth flounder in the Gulf of Alaska would be about 230,000 tons per year. Managers have set the total allowable catch at 43,000 tons per year, but the fishing industry only catches and processes about 25,000 tons per year in the Gulf.
NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources. Visit www.noaa.gov. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, visit http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov or: www.afsc.noaa.gov.