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Time to curtail halibut bycatch: We can't continue to waste our fish

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Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2012 12:01 am

Community perspective

If you fish for and eat halibut and want to continue to do so, here’s your chance to prove it.

After years of study and foot-dragging, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is finally considering reducing the amount of halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska. My compliments to the council for taking the time in the fisheries management process they are responsible for to reduce the bycatch of halibut in the Gulf of Alaska. National Standard 9 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act mandates that we do that.

It is difficult for me discuss this issue without getting emotional. We have witnessed a decline of 58 percent of the exploitable biomass that is available for commercial harvest. Area 2C charter sport catch limits have been reduced by 34 percent to help conserve halibut stocks.

Meanwhile, the trawl bycatch caps have not been reduced since 1989. Reducing bycatch to help conserve and rebuild our halibut resource is the responsible thing to do, as bycatch now kills as many halibut in numbers of fish as are harvested in the commercial halibut fishery.

Just what is halibut bycatch?

It’s what happens when a commercial trawler or long-liner tries to catch cod, pollock or some other species and, in the destructive, unsustainable process, the vessel catches halibut and other fish. Many of these halibut are dead. Reduced to an acronym — PSC, for prohibited species catch — they sink to the bottom, utterly wasted.

This bycatch is now affecting fishing opportunity and, more importantly, halibut productivity. A recent study found that 1 pound of halibut lost to bycatch equates to a loss of about 1.5 pounds of halibut in the halibut spawning biomass. These bycatch losses are now cutting into the number of halibut you and I could be catching in the sport, commercial and subsistence fishery.

Every year, 2,300 metric tons — just over 5 million pounds — of halibut bycatch is taken out of the Gulf of Alaska. None of this fish ever goes to market, thus impacting local economies and small businesses that rely on halibut fishing to survive.

Everyone should do their part to help protect and rebuild our halibut fisheries. By continuing to cut harvest limits for commercial and sport fishermen, we are creating long-term struggles to the communities who depend on halibut as both an economic and nutritional resource.

On June 4, the North Pacific council will meet in Kodiak to discuss halibut bycatch and determine whether a cut in limits are necessary. I encourage you to attend the meetings or email npfmc.comments@noaa.gov or visit the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s website at www.akmarine.org to tell the North Pacific council that halibut bycatch should be reduced by 15 percent.

It will help protect our fisheries long into the future.

Tim Evers of Ninilchik has been a charter halibut guide in Cook Inlet for 25 years, is founder and president of Deep Creek Charterboat Association and serves on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s advisory panel.

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