Every year, trawlers in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) management area catch and discard as much as 7x the number of halibut caught by commercial halibut fishermen in the same region! That halibut is going to waste is bad. That halibut bycatch allowances have not been appreciably lowered even as commercial halibut quotas have been slashed over the last fourteen years is even worse. That halibut bycatch is overwhelmingly juvenile fish who have not yet reproduced is perhaps the worst news of all.
But the Bering Sea is far away from our fisheries here in Sitka Sound, right?
In a word, no. Most juvenile halibut tagged in the Bering Sea are later recovered across the Gulf of Alaska. Some have even been recovered as far south as California. That means that what happens in the BSAI directly affects subsistence and commercial opportunities here.
Large amounts of halibut bycatch would be deplorable under any circumstances, but that's especially true when the populations are declining and trawl bycatch specifically removes immature population.
We have an opportunity to act!
The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is meeting in Sitka from June 1st to June 9th. Write the Council a letter by May 26th asking for a 50% reduction in bycatch allowances. Need ideas? ALFA has posted a great halibut fact sheet. Comments should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and should reference Agenda Item C2. You can also sign up to testify to the Council on June 4th or 5th. Find out more about commenting or testifying here. Be sure to attend the meeting to show your support for halibut!
What can you do? Contact Senator Murkowski today! Here's why:
A resident of Kivalina, Alaska fishes for cod on Arctic sea ice. The Iñupiat Eskimo village of Kivalina sits atop a fragile barrier island in the Chukchi Sea. Climate change is melting the protective sea ice around Kivalina, leaving the community exposed to harsh waves. Residents of Kivalina may soon be forced to relocate. Photo credit: Loren Holmes / ADN
Last Friday, the United States began its chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an international body that works to address key Arctic issues. Secretary of State John Kerry promised to make climate change a top priority during his two-year stint at the helm of the Arctic Council, noting that catastrophic weather events and rising sea levels are already wreaking havoc on the region.
"The numbers are alarming. The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth,” Kerry noted.
Sadly, he’s right. Alaska is warming twice as fast as the rest of the United States. Our permafrost is melting, our oceans are acidifying, and many of our coastal communities are starting to slide into the sea. Even our Arctic sea ice is disappearing. The National Snow and Ice Data Center concluded this February that Arctic sea ice has reached its lowest maximum on record, a frightening fact that has led many scientists to predict the North Pole could be ice-free by the summer of 2020.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski attended the meeting of the Arctic Council on Friday. While she acknowledged that climate change is a valid Arctic issue, she stressed that climate change should not be a top priority of the Arctic Council. “It cannot be our sole and singular focus,” she told the press, and went on to promote the local benefits of resource extraction.
Senator Murkowski, climate change in the Arctic is not an issue to brush off. Climate change is hitting Alaska hard. And it’s happening NOW. As a citizen of Alaska, I beg you to use your position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to do something about climate change and invest in clean renewable energy.
Call Senator Murkowski’s Washington D.C. office TODAY and tell her that climate change is real and caused by humans. Adaptation is not enough. It’s time to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation.