Reduction falls short of conservation needs
For Immediate Release: June 8, 2015
Jeff Kauffman, CEO St. Paul Fishing Company, Bering Sea halibut fisherman, (907) 952-247
Linda Behnken, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Fisherman, (907) 747-0695
After significant public testimony and deliberation in Sitka this week, members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to cut the halibut bycatch caps for the two largest halibut bycatch users in the Bering Sea, by 25 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
“Though a step in the right direction, the Council’s reduction falls short of the cuts needed to ensure the sustained participation of Bering Sea communities in the halibut fishery, and fails to adequately address theconservation concerns voiced over the past week,” said Shannon Carroll, Fisheries Director for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “While we’re glad to see that the Council is committed to working towards a better solution in the future, we feel that the Council missed an opportunity to protect one of our state’s most important fisheries.”
The decision comes after heated council and public debate around a growing concern for the health of the halibut resource and halibut-dependent communities in the North Pacific. Halibut fleets coast-wide have experienced significant cuts in harvest quota in the past decade, aconservation response to declining stocks — particularly in the Bering Sea. As fleets and decision makers look to provide some relief for halibut-dependent communities on the verge of fishery closure, a critical eye has focused on the Bering Sea’s largest halibut user — those who remove halibut as bycatch.
In the Bering Sea in 2014, the groundfish fishery has removed, as bycatch, seven times more halibut than were harvested in the directed fishery. While groundfish fleets have made a number of voluntary reductions to bycatch harvest, bycatch caps have remained relatively static through more than a decade of declining halibut stocks.
“Reflecting back on our community and our small boat fleets, and the uncertainty that this brings to our fleet, not knowing if we are going to have a fishery or not, we were disappointed in the final action that was approved and felt like it didn’t go far enough, particularly for some sectors,” said Jeff Kauffman, a halibut fisherman from St. Paul and a member of the Advisory Panel. “We’re very concerned about the future. For St. Paul’s future, and in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian island communities —what this means for our way of life and our economy if it goes away.”
The recent council decision generated dissatisfaction from both sides. Halibut fishermen see the cuts falling far short of the meaningful change needed for essential conservation of the resource, and for salvaging minimum fishing opportunities for communities in the Bering Sea that are almost entirely dependent on the halibut fishery. Groundfish representatives claim that the reduction represents an unattainable cut for which they lack the tools to carry out without significant economic harm.