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 [email protected] 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!