AKSC Halibut Confusion
Alaska Seafood Cooperative to Sobeck: We fear confusion remains on halibut bycatch capabilities
The Alaska Seafood Cooperative has added another voice to the growing list of companies asking regulators to take heed of what may be confusion in the debate on halibut bycatch reduction measures.
General manager Jason Anderson sent a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) assistant administrator Eileen Sobeck on Tuesday flagging up some of many concerns arising now Bering Sea groundfish industry attempts to quantify its ability to reduce halibut bycatch.
The cooperative, representing sixteen trawl catcher/processors and five companies, said the benefits of deck sorting have been over-estimated by Sobeck, who in her letter to the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) in January said deck sorting can reduce halibut bycatch by 32%.
Sobeck had voiced concern for the issue in the letter for the socioeconomic impacts on area 4CDE if no halibut bycatch reduction measures were taken.
Anderson said Sobeck has also helped the groundfish fleet to develop an experimental fishing permit to allow it to sort halibut on deck.
"While your efforts are certainly aiding our halibut mortality reduction efforts, we fear that some confusion remains concerning the potential benefits of deck sorting halibut," Anderson said in the letter, going on to explain deck sorting's halibut bycatch reduction capability is probably only 20% and even less when taking into account other factors.
On top of that, this total benefit may be already being achieved since excluders – already in use – typically remove the large sized halibut, which are also the most likely portion of the biomass to be spared by deck sorting, according to Anderson.
“To the extent that excluders are currently reducing halibut mortality, that savings is already being achieved without deck sorting and cannot be added to by deck sorting,” he said.
Such estimations have huge implications for the groundfish fishery, which is at the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) meeting in June, when the council will decide among bycatch reduction options ranging from zero to 60%.
If companies are deemed to have tools at their disposal that could significantly reduce the catch, that would provide more justification for reductions.
Read more on the Halibut issue facing the Amendment 80 fleet at the 223rd Plenary Session of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council - Click Here!