One of AMCC's highest priorities has been to advance solutions to the halibut bycatch crisis in the Bering Sea due to the far-reaching implications on Alaska's halibut fisheries, marine ecosystems and coastal communities. The Bering Sea is considered the nursery grounds for halibut throughout the North Pacific, with juvenile halibut tagged in the Bering Sea traveling to the Gulf of Alaska and as far south as Oregon.
While a powerful fleet of industrial-scale bottom trawlers from outside Alaska fish for targeted species like sole in the Bering Sea, they drag their nets along the ocean floor, indiscriminately hauling in and discarding (living or dead) massive amounts of unwanted halibut in the process. Since 2011, more halibut have been caught as bycatch in the Bering Sea than directly by halibut fishermen.* Simultaneously, halibut stocks have declined to the point that they no longer support the ways of life of many community-based halibut fishermen in the region. While factory ships drag offshore, a staggering nine out of 17 communities no longer participate in the halibut fishery upon which they've historically relied economically and culturally.**
This results from decades of outdated fisheries and bycatch management systems glaring with inequities and waste. The directed halibut fishery ismanaged based on abundance of the species, but bycatch in the groundfish fisheries ismanaged based on a flat cap that has changed little in several decades. As the stock declined, halibut fishermen reduced their fishing, while the factory bottom trawlers benefitted.
For six years, AMCC and our allies have been advocating diligently for Abundance-Based Management (ABM) as a solution to the crisis. This management approach links the number of halibut allowed as bycatch each year to the health of the stocks. ABM is a science-based, fair and common-sense approach to ensuring the long-term conservation of this species, upon which thousands of Alaskan families and businesses depend.
In December 2021, our efforts reached a critical turning point when the North Pacific Fishery
Management Council (NPFMC) took final action on ABM, specifically addressing the Amendment 80 fleet, the bottom trawl boats responsible for most of the bycatch. Leading up to that decision, we asked you to raise your voices to support a healthy future for halibut, and you turned out in spades. If not for you, the results might not have been as positive. In the end, the NPFMC approved a new ABM plan, establishing a 2.9-million-pound bycatch limit for the Amendment 80 fleet based on halibut abundance levels, which represents a 25% reduction from the current limit. The plan also allows for reductions of up to 35% should halibut stocks decline further.
Although AMCC and our allies have been advocating for more meaningful reductions, we view the result as a positive step in a longer march toward fishery management that reflects more sustainable and equitable use of our common resources. We are grateful to everyone who made this progress possible. As our journey continues, we will keep you informed about how you can engage.
To learn more, read AMCC's comments to the NPFMC here.
*International Pacific Halibut Commission
**Social Impact Analysis reports