Stay up to Date on Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch

By: Shannon Carroll, Fisheries Policy Director

Here is the latest news for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s work on halibut bycatch.

Halibut Management Framework

Since June 2015, The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) has been working to develop a Halibut Bycatch Framework (Framework). The goal of the Framework is to serve as a strategic planning device for future halibut management actions along with improving and increasing communications with the International Halibut Commission (IPHC).

The Framework is often described as a “living document,” with the intention to continue refining and adjusting the document to fit ongoing Council needs. After receiving input from stakeholders, including AMCC, during the October and December Council meetings, the five halibut management objectives:

  • Manage halibut bycatch in the groundfish fisheries and harvests in the commercial, guided and non-guided recreational, and subsistence fisheries consistent with the Council’s Magnuson-Stevens Act conservation objectives.
  • Manage halibut bycatch to balance the objectives of directed users and bycatch users in both the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and the Gulf of Alaska (GOA).
  • Pursue an abundance based approach to managing halibut bycatch and directed harvests in coordination with the IPHC.
  • Provide for the sustained participation of historic participants and fishery dependent communities.
  • Maintain monitoring and catch accounting programs for halibut users in the BSAI and GOA in order to provide the data necessary for management needs.

The Framework has also led to more formalized communication with the IPHC, including the formation of a Halibut Management Committee and likely development of a Joint Council/IPHC Committee that would meet on an annual basis. The Council will be reviewing the Framework again during the April Council meeting in Anchorage, so stay tuned for news regarding that review process.

Abundance-Based Halibut Bycatch Management in the Bering Sea
AMCC has been working with other halibut user groups to push for a halibut management structure that links both catch and bycatch limits to halibut abundance levels.  This is in contrast to the existing structure, where bycatch limits are fixed, regardless of halibut abundance.  An abundance-based management structure would help both the IPHC and Council better share the responsibility of halibut conservation. Currently, the IPHC manages only the directed fishery and cannot make reductions to bycatch limits during times of low abundance. Were the Council to adopt abundance-based management, it would have an additional tool to protect halibut stocks at periods of low abundance.

The Council has recognized the potential value of this approach and has formed an interagency workgroup comprised of staff from the Council, the IPHC, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. This workgroup has been tasked with developing alternative approaches to abundance-based management and will be providing advice to the Council during either the April or June Council meeting.

Stay tuned for more halibut bycatch updates following the April Council Meeting!

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