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Abundance-based Management (ABM) of Halibut Bycatch in the Bering Sea: Agenda item C6

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

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In 2015, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council reduced halibut bycatch caps by 21% overall when halibut abundance had fallen over 40% since the Bering Sea caps were set. Current halibut bycatch management is based on a static cap or limit, applied by sector, to fisheries for groundfish species. In speeches justifying the minimal bycatch reduction, Council members committed to further reductions in bycatch once the Council established an abundance-based halibut bycatch strategy—i.e., a bycatch management plan that ensured bycatch caps followed the changes in halibut abundance. This important change would shift the burden of conservation from being borne only by the directed fleet to one shared with the bycatch sector.

To quote from the Council’s purpose and need statement for this action:

When halibut abundance declines, PSC (bycatch) becomes a larger proportion of total halibut removals and thereby further reduces the proportion and amount of halibut available for harvest in directed halibut fisheries.

This fall, the Council needs to follow through on its promise to reduce halibut bycatch. The halibut fishery has cultural, recreational, and commercial importance to Alaskans and Alaska’s coastal communities. Halibut is an iconic Alaska species enjoyed by more than 4,000 Alaska subsistence users, depended upon by more than 2,000 Alaska commercial fishermen for their livelihood, and recreationally caught by more than 200,000 visitors to the state each year. These Alaskans and Alaska businesses are impacted by the bycatch of 16 bottom trawl vessels known as the Amendment 80 fleet. These Washington-based trawlers account for 60% of the Bering Sea halibut bycatch—over 3 million pounds of halibut every year killed and discarded. Alaskans must speak out to support the halibut resource and historic community-based halibut fisheries.

In October, the Council will meet (virtually) to select ABM halibut bycatch alternatives; in December or early in 2021, the Council is scheduled to take final action on Bering Sea halibut bycatch. The Council needs to hear from Alaskans who subsistence, sport, charter, or commercial fish for halibut; they also need to hear from people who value the halibut resource and enjoy eating halibut at home or in restaurants. Please send a letter to the Council asking it to take meaningful action to reduce Bering Sea Bycatch caps and protect Alaska’s halibut resource.

The deadline for written public comments on this issue is 5 p.m. AKST on September 30.

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