Sitka, AK – Yesterday, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) voted for a slight reduction to the Pacific halibut bycatch limits of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) groundfish fisheries. In the last 10 years (2004-2013), approximately 82 million pounds of mostly juvenile halibut have been wasted as bycatch in the federal groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea. The amount of halibut discarded as bycatch by the groundfish fisheries still exceeds the catch of the halibut fisheries in the region that catch halibut for human consumption.
The action may result in an approximately 11 percent reduction from the average halibut bycatch, and might save up to 645,000 pounds of halibut from being wasted next year. The lower halibut bycatch limits may be in place by 2016 and would mostly affect the industrial bottom trawl fleet that catch large volumes of lower value flatfish for export to Asia.
“Every halibut counts but clearly more needed to be done,” said Jon Warrenchuk, Senior Scientist and Campaign Manager for Oceana. “All that halibut wasted as bycatch means there’s less available for everyone down the road.”
The state of Alaska wanted greater halibut bycatch reductions in part to provide more halibut fishing opportunities for Alaskan communities dependent on the halibut fishery. Even the Council’s Advisory Panel, made up of members of the fishing industry, had passed a motion for greater halibut bycatch reductions. One member of the public distributed candy cigarettes during her testimony, admonishing the Council and the Fisheries Service for promoting industrial bottom trawling by drawing parallels to the way “big tobacco” used to promote smoking. Many testifiers were rankled that so much of the halibut killed as bycatch came from a marine protected area in the Bering Sea that was originally intended to protect juvenile halibut.
“The Bering Sea produces juvenile halibut that migrate down the coast to the rest of Alaska, Canada, Washington, and Oregon,” said Warrenchuk. “Killing these halibut by bottom trawling through the halibut nursery grounds is inexcusable.”
Oceana produced a report last year exposing the extent of wasteful bycatch in fisheries across the U.S. This wasted catch is a threat to fisheries and ocean health. Oceana is working to promote responsible fisheries management that prioritizes healthy fish populations worldwide to provide consumer access to wild-caught protein-rich seafood meals. Learn more about Oceana’s campaign to Save the Oceans, Feed the World.