Reduction falls short of conservation needs
For Immediate Release: June 8, 2015
- Shannon Carroll, Fisheries Director, Alaska Marine ConservationCouncil,(907) 382-1590, firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) spent a large part of its deliberations in Sitka last week focused on Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) halibut bycatch. Following significant public testimony, the Council, in a 6-3 vote, approved an aggregate 21% reduction in halibut bycatch across all BSAI groundfish sectors.
Many Alaskans were left disappointed by the decision. Alaska voting members Duncan Fields, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, and Council Chairman Dan Hull opposed the amended motion, saying the reduction did not come close to addressing either the conservation needs of a declining halibut stock or the needs of Bering Sea halibut fishermen trying to maintain a directed fishery.
The decision comes after growing concern for the health of halibut stocks and halibut-dependent communities in the North Pacific. The Bering Sea serves as a nursery to the majority of the Pacific’s juvenile halibut, with the majority of juveniles migrating eastward, down the West Coast. Halibut stocks in the Bering Sea have been declining for over a decade, however, and halibut fishermen coast-wide have experienced a corresponding reduction in harvest quota — particularly in the Bering Sea. Recreational fishermen have also faced significant restrictions on their activities. Yet, bycatch caps for the BSAI groundfish fishery have remained relatively static for the last 20 years. The situation came to a head in 2014, when the BSAI groundfish fishery groundfish fishery removed — as bycatch — seven times more halibut than the directed fishery harvested.
“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 the conservation 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.”
AMCC is disappointed that the Council did not take a meaningful action toward the long-term conservation of both the resource and the halibut-dependent communities where the resource represents more than economic opportunity. Looking toward the future, AMCC will continue to work with diverse user groups to further reduce bycatch in the Bering Sea. Though still in the earlier stages of the process, other tools for bycatch reduction were discussed at the meeting, including abundance-based caps and increased collaboration between the Council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
The Alaska Marine Conservation Council is excited to host the first ever Homer Halibut Festival on September 19th & 20th, 2015!
Homer is often called the Halibut Capital of the World, and this is a title we want to celebrate! We are kicking off the Homer Halibut Festival as an opportunity for the community to celebrate the iconic halibut resource of Homer and of Alaska. The weekend’s activities will provide ample opportunity to learn about halibut science and fisheries management, enjoy a community meal with friends, run the 5K Halibut Hustle and through music, storytelling and art, honor the fish and fishing traditions that have enriched the End of the Road. Through knowledge and celebration, we hope to increase awareness and stewardship of both halibut and marine ecosystems.
Learn more and view the full festival schedule at www.homerhalibutfest.org.
Thank you to all of our generous sponsors who made this event possible!
Skipper Level Sponsors $1000+
International Pacific Halibut Commission
Deckboss Level Sponsors $500-999
Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute
Representative Paul Seaton
Deckhand Level Sponsors $150-499
Alaska Boats & Permits
Captain Mike’s Charters
Homer Chamber of Commerce
North Pacific Fisheries Association
Preventive Dental Services
Salty Girls Gifts and Booking
In-Kind Donors & Partners
Alice’s Champagne Palace
Coal Point Trading Co.
Paul and Jennifer Castellani
F/V Captain Cook
F/V Dangerous Cape
F/V Nuka Point
Islands & Ocean Visitor Center
Kachemak Bay Running Club
La Baleine Cafe
Land’s End Resort
With the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) less than a week away, supporters of halibut bycatch reduction in the Bering Sea are working hard to communicate to the Council Alaskans’ strong support for bycatch reduction.
The meeting is slated for June 1-9 in Sitka, and will include discussion and potential final action on Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) bycatch reduction.
Since 2005, landings from halibut fishermen have been cut by 63% in the Bering Sea, while halibut bycatch caps for non-halibut fisheries have not been measurably reduced for 20 YEARS! This inequity has created a stark disparity between halibut fishermen and fisheries that harvest halibut as bycatch in the Bering Sea. In 2014, Bering Sea groundfish fisheries killed and discarded 7 times more more halibut (number of fish, not pounds) than the halibut fishery in landed in the same region or over 5 million pounds!
BSAI halibut bycatch in 2014 came in at roughly one million fish, with an average weight of just under 5 pounds. Tagging studies show that from these large groups of juvenile halibut feeding in the Bering Sea, 70-90% of them are slated to migrate to other areas upon maturity. The removal of large numbers of these juvenile animals from the ecosystem is a critical stock concern for any halibut fisherman or consumer in the North Pacific, from California to Alaska.
How to Comment
It is vital that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) hear from halibut users from across the North Pacific. Join other fishermen and communities across Alaska and write to the Council today asking them to reduce halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea by no less than 50%! The deadline for written comment is Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Only a meaningful reduction will give the halibut fishery and the communities that depend on halibut the relief they need. Policy makers should not prioritize bycatch over other harvests and the long term health of juvenile halibut populations. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is responsible for managing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and as stewards of this resource, it is time to take action to reduce bycatch.
*To submit comments to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, email your comments to email@example.com with “C2 Bering Sea Halibut PSC” in the subject line. Copy our Congressional Delegations in your comments – Alaska’s representatives need to hear how Alaskans feel about bycatch. Letters can be copied to:
For more information on how to comment or testify in person, please visit npfmc.org or contact:
- Hannah Heimbuch — Community Fisheries Organizer — Homer (907) 299-4018 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Theresa Peterson — Kodiak Outreach Coordinator — Kodiak, (907) 539-1927 or email@example.com
Other Ways to Participate:
Testify in person: The Council takes public testimony on every agenda item. The meeting starts June 1 and runs through June 9 in Sitka, AK. To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins.
Listen online: We will post the link to listen on Facebook on the first day of meetings.
Support AMCC’s work on important issues: AMCC has staff at every Council meeting, advocating for the health of marine ecosystems and fishing communities. Donations from individuals like you are essential to maintaining this key role. Help support our work today: donate now.
Read What Other Alaskans Have to Say:
Connecting the Coast; Bycatch in the Bering Sea by Marissa Wilson
Our Pacific Halibut Are In Trouble by Dave Kubiak
Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch Cuts Critical for Conservation by Hannah Heimbuch
Alaska Fish Factor: Reduction in Halibut Bycatch Needed by Laine Welch
It’s Time to Reduce Bycatch in the Bering Sea by Kelly Harrell & Jon Zuck
For past updates on this issue, click here.
By Hannah Heimbuch, AMCC Community Fisheries Organizer
Featured in the Alaska Journal of Commerce
This time of year I split my days between my computer and the harbor, trying not to bring too much of the bait smell back to the office with me. Herring oil or not, it’s been my great fortune to find work in my hometown that allows me to always be talking about, writing about or looking for fish.
I’ll be on the grounds this time next week, hauling in Pacific halibut, finding rhythm again for another season on the water.
I’ll also be considering what’s coming up after I return to homeport — the June convening of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sitka. There the Council will take final action on the proposed reduction of halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, region.
This decision point comes after a decade of steady stock decline, during which time the directed halibut fishery quota in the BSAI has dropped by 63 percent. Halibut fishermen in the hardest hit region — the Central Bering Sea — are facing closure if meaningful change doesn’t come out of the June meeting. Their crisis point has arrived.
In the meantime, halibut bycatch caps in the BSAI stand the same as they were set during peak abundance decades ago. In 2014, BSAI groundfish fisheries caught and discarded seven times more halibut (number of fish) than the directed fishery landed.
In a state that celebrates its commitment to sustainable fisheries, we have created through inaction an epic inequity in the Bering Sea, allowing a management system that prioritizes bycatch over directed fisheries.
But it’s more than that. There are some that would tell you that a reduction of bycatch in favor of returning quota to the directed fishery is solely an allocation decision. While in some ways it is — under well-defined legal and ethical standards that say one fishery should not carry on unchanged at the cost of another collapsing — it is also a serious conservation issue.
At an average weight of just under 5 pounds, the vast majority of the 1 million halibut caught as bycatch in the BSAI last year were juvenile fish. Tagging studies conducted by the International Pacific Halibut Commission show that 70 percent to 90 percent of juvenile halibut can and do migrate out of the BSAI to all other areas of the North Pacific.
So when we talk about halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea, we’re talking about high volume removals of a stock that supplies every halibut fishery from Nome to California. We’re talking about a reduction in numbers and essential genetic biodiversity. This is a conservation issue.
A 5-pound halibut is well under the size that commercial halibut fishermen are allowed to keep. Regardless of the harvester, higher yield is achieved by harvesting larger fish.
At the current rate and average size of bycatch, fishing pressure in the BSAI is diminishing juvenile cohorts before the stock is able to grow into collective maturity — an essential standard for sustainable fishing practices.
This scenario shows us that we cannot directly compare the harvest impact of halibut bycatch and directed halibut harvest. They are harvesting from different populations, and one is removing significantly more animals from the ecosystem than the other. This is a conservation issue.
Finally, the entire situation of a declining halibut stock is a conservation issue. Our regulations have simply failed to require halibut bycatch harvesters to participate in it. The Bering Sea halibut fleet has done everything but sell their boats in an effort to conserve the halibut stock. It’s time that other groups share the burden of that conservation.
As someone who makes her living off the ocean, I know what I’m asking for, and it’s significant. A 50 percent cut in bycatch will mean change for the groundfish fleet in the BSAI.
Not impossible change, not crippling change, but it will mean change. However, the alternative is the demise of one fishery, and the continued risk of coast-wide stock health. While I respect the voluntary reductions in bycatch the groundfish fleet has achieved, a meaningful regulatory conservation effort is long overdue.
Please advocate for a meaningful reduction of halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline to comment is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26.
By Marissa Wilson, AMCC Board Member
Originally published in the Homer Tribune
A small but formative fraction of my life has been spent gazing out salt-sprayed windows at rugged terrain and open ocean. My father’s silhouette was always incorporated in the scenery, reflected on the glass that shielded our fragile flesh from the elements. As he sat in the helm seat, occasionally leaning forward to alter our course or to study charts that he had known longer than he knew me, I looked out the window and absorbed what it meant to be a fisherman.
Thousands of miles of coastline, spanning from Attu to Port Townsend, have passed like this. The ocean below our vessel once seemed a vast unknown, prodded only by our longline gear in highly specific areas — little lines draped along ridges at particular depths within abstract boundaries. Throughout my adolescence, I became increasingly aware of certain truths surfacing from those depths. Halibut have become smaller, harder to find, and the amount we’ve been allowed to catch has declined significantly. Privately, I became concerned about the fate of our ocean-dependent lifestyle. My father has fished commercially for forty years. With the trend I witnessed, I couldn’t see how I would manage to do the same.
Adulthood brought the sobering realization that problems rarely fix themselves. With my mind set on a serious long-term relationship with halibut, I recognized the importance of understanding my partner and the issues it faced. I diversified my connection by working on a charter boat. Harvesting halibut for my own freezer strengthened the bond. The deeper I got into the world of fish, the more complex but interconnected it revealed itself to be.
Research from the International Pacific Halibut Commission, conducted since the 1920s, has revealed significant information about the lifestyle of the flatfish.
Halibut move offshore to breed in the deeper waters off the continental shelf. Eggs and larvae get carried with the currents in a counter-clockwise direction, turning an area northwest of the Gulf of Alaska into the landing ground — the nursery — for halibut stock. This is where the Bering Sea becomes a focal point in the lifecycle. As they mature, juvenile halibut begin a southern and eastern migration to counter the initial drift. As such, the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, is critical to the abundance of the resource throughout its population distribution.
The groundfish fleet that fishes in the Bering Sea consists of a handful of vessels owned by Seattle-based companies. This small fleet of huge ships drags large nets through the water, targeting groundfish — often shipped overseas for processing and consumption. In the last ten years — since I first started baiting longline hooks — 62.6 million pounds of halibut have been caught and killed in the BSAI as bycatch in those groundfish fisheries, 79 percent of that from one area, the Central Bering Sea.
Most of the halibut scooped up in trawl gear as bycatch are juveniles. Last year in the BSAI, one million halibut were caught in trawls. The average size of those fish: just 4.8 pounds. Beyond the immediate loss of these fish, the depletion of juvenile halibut stock prevents a robust population from maturing and taking hold along the entire coast. Of the juvenile halibut caught in trawl gear, 70 to 90 percent were destined to migrate to the Gulf of Alaska, Canada, Washington, Oregon, and California.
The potential exponential growth of those wasted fish is incalculable, and their documented range makes this a coast-wide issue.
In publications issued by the trawl fleet, the current amount of bycatch is described as inconsequential. Their case is, notably, made in light of the profitability of trawling. Commercial, charter, and subsistence fishers along thousands of miles of coastline would likely disagree about the impact of the loss. Direct users of halibut absorb the negative consequences of a wasteful industry with deep pocketbooks and broad regulatory influence.
I think back to those precious moments of stillness between sets or ports, my tired head resting against a cold salt-sprayed window; reflecting. Will future generations have a robust resource to ponder over?
The coastline I’ve traced is linked by more than the wake of my memories — it’s connected by the processes of life and the power of continuity. Lifestyle preservation is, admittedly, an easy cause to fight for. Culture is the breath of human experience. But protecting personal interests over the health of the environment that sustains us is a plague that has led to the collapse of fisheries all around the world.
To the 2,714 halibut IFQ holders aboard the 1,157 vessels that fish it; the 77 registered buyers of halibut in the 32 communities where those fish land; the thousands of charter captains, deckhands, subsistence fishers, processors, and consumers of halibut: keep the Bering Sea on your radar.
This impacts you.
In June, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will decide whether or not to reduce the cap on Bering Sea halibut bycatch for the first time in decades. It is imperative that they make a meaningful cut, and reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands by 50 percent. Please speak up on this issue, and send your comments to email@example.com.
For more on the issue visit: halibut bycatch.
Commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen and fishing communities find common ground in call for bycatch reduction in the Bering Sea
For more information, please contact:
Hannah Heimbuch, Fisherman & Community Fisheries Organizer at the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, (907) 299-4018
Jeff Kauffman, CEO St. Paul Fishing Company, (907) 952-2476
Simeon Swetzof, Mayor, City of St. Paul, (907) 546-4472
Linda Behnken, Executive Director Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, (907) 747-0695
Across the state, letters and resolutions supporting the reduction of halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) fisheries are surfacing — calling attention to a widespread and diverse movement for change. As directed halibut fisheries in the Bering Sea have reached crisis-level lows, bycatch limits on that same species remains at its decades-long level of 7.3 million pounds. Despite some voluntary bycatch reductions by the fleet, BSAI fisheries killed and discarded seven times more halibut (animals, not pounds) in 2014 than the directed fishery landed in that same region.
For fisherman Jeff Kauffman — an Alaska Native from St. Paul Island and IFQ holder in five IPHC regulatory areas — this represents a trend of inequity that he’s seen grow in his 30 years of halibut fishing. After the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) determines the annual harvest, they take the bycatch numbers off the top. The remainder goes to directed halibut fisheries. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) system determines bycatch limits.
“Halibut bycatch comes off the top,” Kauffman said. “As directed halibut users, we are always last. It’s been very inequitable — the way the situation has been handled. There has been a defacto reallocation from the directed fisheries to the bycatch fisheries.” That reallocation trend has occurred in response to a major conservation concern for the halibut resource. In the last 10 years, halibut quota in the Bering Sea has been reduced by 63 percent in an effort to conserve a dwindling stock.
“Conservation of the halibut stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen,” Kauffman said. “The bycatch allocations have remained relatively the same for decades. We feel that it’s only fair that all users of the halibut resource share equally in the conservation of the resource.”
In June, the NPFMC will take final action on a measure that proposes up to a 50 percent reduction in the cap on halibut bycatch in BSAI fisheries. Across the state, diverse voices have emerged in support of this measure — seen as vital not only for restoring some sort of economic equity to the BSAI fisheries system, but for essential conservation steps. 70 to 90 percent of under-26-inch halibut are slated to migrate out of the BSAI upon maturity. The average size of the one million halibut caught as bycatch in the BSAI in 2014 was 4.76 pounds, less than half the weight of a typical 26-inch halibut. This high rate of juvenile halibut harvest in the bycatch fisheries is troubling to halibut fishing communities coast-wide, and the potential stock impact across the North Pacific has many calling for a change in the status quo.
“As a younger fisherman beginning to invest my future in Alaska’s fisheries, I don’t have any choice but to advocate for a better legacy of management,” said Hannah Heimbuch, a commercial fisherman from Homer and Community Fishery Organizer for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “I want to keep fishing halibut. I want to see fish stocks thriving across the North Pacific coast. I want Alaska to be home to healthy coastal communities that have access to that vital resource. That won’t happen if we continue to prioritize a massive take of bycatch over the directed fisheries. I don’t want to see any fisherman put out of business, but that is what will happen in coastal Alaska if we refuse to include the groundfish sector in the regulatory conservation of the halibut resource.”
On April 15, a group of Alaska legislators sent a letter to the NPFMC, urging them to make a 50 percent reduction in BSAI halibut bycatch to ensure the continued viability of Alaska’s directed halibut fisheries. That letter was signed by Senators Lyman Hoffman, Donny Olson, Dennis Egan and Peter Micciche; as well as Representatives Bryce Edgmon, Bob Herron, Neal Foster, Cathy Munoz, Paul Seaton, Johnathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Dan Ortiz and Jim Colver.
A letter sent this week to the Alaska Congressional Delegation requesting their support in reducing halibut bycatch included the following signees:
Alaska Longline Fisheries Association
Alaska Marine Conservation Council
Alaska Trollers Association
Aleut Community of Saint Paul Tribal Government
Aleutians East Borough
Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Corporation
Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association
City of Saint Paul Island, Alaska
Coal Point Seafood Company
Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association
Halibut Association of North America
Homer Charter Association
North Pacific Fisheries Association
Pioneer Alaskan Fisheries, Inc.
United Fishermen’s Marketing Association
At their April 14 meeting, the Homer Area Advisory Committee for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game discussed and unanimously passed a resolution asking for a 50 percent reduction of halibut bycatch caps in the BSAI. The City of Sitka and the Kenai Peninsula Borough passed similar resolutions earlier this spring, and organizations, committees and city councils around the state are considering passage of the same in the coming month.
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.