Halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea was the big ticket item for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) at the February meeting in Seattle last week. After nearly four days dedicated to the issue, the Council made a motion to move forward in reducing halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) groundfish fisheries with options to reduce bycatch by up to 50% by sector. Final action is scheduled for June 2015 at the Council meeting in Sitka.
The final Council motion includes additional options for bycatch reduction in multiple BSAI groundfish fisheries, beyond that in the existing motion language. AMCC strongly supported this amendment, maintaining that the crisis facing the directed halibut fishery warrants swift and significant change in bycatch caps. The options for reducing bycatch, which will be voted upon by the Council in June, now include: no change, or reductions of 10, 20, 30, 35, 40, 45 or 50 percent.
The Council held a joint meeting with the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) earlier in the week to discuss the issue of BSAI bycatch. It had been nearly two decades since the two bodies met to share information and the meeting provided an opportunity to collaborate on management of pacific halibut. The IPHC was formed in 1923 and is the oldest bilateral fishing agreement in the United States. The Council is responsible for managing bycatch of halibut while the IPHC monitors the overall status of the halibut stocks and establishes catch limits for each regulatory area in the United States and Canada.
In staff tasking, as a follow up to the expedited action to reduce BSAI bycatch, the Council expressed interest in pursuing a more comprehensive, long term approach. The Council passed a motion unanimously to move forward with a discussion paper looking at abundance-based caps for Bering Sea halibut bycatch.
In addition, the Council also passed a motion made by Commissioner Cotten to initiate a discussion paper evaluating effects of moving all GOA trawl vessels currently in the partial observer coverage category to the full (100%) observer category. The discussion paper will provide information on the impacts of this move, and the Council can decide at that point if they wish to proceed further with action on this item.