NPFMC Testimony: Baker
Testimony of US INTREPID Captain Phil Baker at the 221st Plenary Session of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Seattle
Pictured above, CEO Ms. Park discussing fishing plans with Captain Baker - July 2014
Thank you for the time to speak today. My name is Phil Baker and I am the Captain on the U.S. Intrepid, an H&G boat in the Amendment 80 sector. I have been fishing in the Bering Sea since the 1980’s and have been on H&G boats since the early ‘90s.
Due to the growing amount of small halibut that I’ve seen in the past few years, I would like to tell you about the methods we have been using to reduce halibut PSC. It is an all the time, every tow, deal.
First of all, COMMUNICATION: Talking with other boats on the grounds we get information of what they’re seeing as for how much, what size, where they have been and may be getting more or less PSC and even water temperature.
Second, TEST TOWS: in unknown areas, we make shorter tows to see what fish is there and determine what gear we should use.
IN DETERMINING WHAT GEAR TO USE – this includes sweeps, footropes, nets, codend size, live feed cameras, excluders – all can make a difference with the larger size halibut, but you still will not get the smaller halibut out. For that, the only tool is deck sorting. The small halibut are all over.
Three, EXCLUDERS – we have been working on many types, shapes, and sizes of excluders since the early 1990’s and though it has come a long way, they still have some disadvantages. The smaller halibut still get through and make it into the codend. The loss of catch rate can mean making longer tows which can lead to more small halibut. The excluders can also be unpredictable.
Four, AVOIDANCE – not fishing where there has been higher bycatch rates, and not fishing at certain times during the night, we move around trying different depths, temperatures, or steam to a different spot altogether.
In doing these things we have more gear costs, more fuel costs, loss of fish experimenting with gear, but we are able to keep fishing for our crew.
With the amount of small halibut on the grounds, we don’t see how there can be a problem with the resource. But we do see a problem with taking more cuts just to shift fish to another group. I think Thomas [Little] had a point yesterday when he talked about lowering the halibut size limit. We have to keep over 85% of our fish which means we had to make markets for super small flatfish. The halibut fleet throws anything less than 32 inches overboard. Halibut is really valuable and there is a market for smaller fish.
I really think there is a way to keep both fleets healthy and fishing and that’s to give us the ability to deck sort, and let the halibut guys sell smaller fish to make more money.
Agenda item C-5 is up for Final Action before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at the June/Sitka meeting. We've compiled a running list of articles and posts regarding this important issue (please check back regularly as we will continue to update up to and through the June Council Meeting):