Take Action Now: Reduce Halibut Bycatch in the Bering Sea

Although the North Pacific Fishery Management Council failed to recommend meaningful halibut bycatch reductions in the Bering Sea groundfish fishery this past June, there is still time to tell the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to take action. Ask our Alaskan Congressional Delegation to urge NMFS and the Secretary of Commerce to protect the halibut resource and Alaskan coastal communities.

Please submit this letter and show your support for reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea by October 28, 2015.

Fisheries Law Needs to Protect Communities and Small-Boat Fishermen

By Shannon Carroll, Fisheries Policy Director
Originally featured on the Marine Fish Conservation Network

June was a bad month for fishery-dependent, coastal communities. On the back of the passage of H.R. 1335—a bill that puts short-term economic gains ahead of sustainable fisheries—the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) failed to impose significant bycatch cuts to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island trawl fleet.

Landing Halibut

As was noted a few weeks ago, Pacific halibut stocks have been in decline for the past fifteen years. But because bycatch limits have remained relatively static over that time, directed users (those who specifically target halibut in a commercial, recreational, or subsistence fishery) have carried the responsibility of conservation alone, with commercial fishermen in the Bering Sea taking around a 70% reduction in harvest between 2011 and 2014. This situation reached a new level of absurdity in 2014, when the groundfish fishery removed more halibut as bycatch than the entire directed halibut fishery.

While the cuts made by the directed fishery have been felt across the North Pacific, these cuts have been particularly painful for the remote communities of the Bering Sea, such as St. Paul, where the economies and social fabric are nearly entirely dependent on halibut fishing. Coming into the Council meeting, these communities needed more than a 40% cut to bycatch in order to have a directed fishery in 2016.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Council must, when amending fishery management plans, adhere to ten national standards that ensure sustainable and responsible fisheries management. These national standards have inherent tension, and it is the Council’s job to find balance within these mandates. In the case of halibut bycatch, the Council primarily focused on National Standards 1, 8, and 9. National Standard 1 mandates that the Council prevent overfishing while also achieving optimum yield. National Standard 8 requires that the Council consider community involvement and provide for sustained community participation in the fishery. Finally, National Standard 9 directs the Council to reduce bycatch to the extent practicable.

Balancing these standards is difficult, and because these standards are created to provide some discretion to the Council, they do not dictate a specific outcome. Nonetheless, the halibut bycatch decision demonstrates the limits of these standards, at least with respect to how the standards are disproportionately weighted towards the economics of an industrialized groundfish fleet.

The Council’s decision resulted in an aggregate 21% cut to bycatch caps, which only amounts to a 0.7% reduction from 2014 bycatch mortality levels. For the Council, which was short two Alaskan votes due to recusals, the potential economic impacts of decreased groundfish harvest outweighed the smaller economic losses to halibut users. Simply, the Council was unwilling or unable to evenly weigh the benefits of small-scale, community fisheries with those of the industrialized trawl fleet.

This decision will have a significant negative effect on directed halibut users, especially those in the Bering Sea. But it can serve the purpose of shaping our current discussions with respect to Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization. Specifically, the Council’s decision highlights some of the limits of the current Magnuson-Stevens Act when it comes to addressing bycatch.

Under current standards, curtailing bycatch is limited by the vague and subjective practicability standard and the predominate view that optimum yield trumps bycatch reduction. As the recent Council meeting demonstrates, such standards undervalue community fisheries and overlook the fact that not all bycatch is the same, particularly when one fishery’s bycatch supports coastal communities from Nome, AK to Seattle, WA.

Moving forward, strengthening bycatch reduction provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act must be a key component of any reauthorization bill. Although the law does mandate some reduction, it must do a better job of distinguishing between different types of bycatch, including bycatch that is itself a valuable and fully utilized fishery. Further, it must also direct the Council to give more weight to sustained community participation as well as indirect economic and social dependence.

Absent such protections, small-scale fisheries that lack the economic clout of the groundfish fleet will continue lose in the National Standards balancing act.

Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch Nears Final Action in June

Graphic by Emma Laukitis

Graphic by Emma Laukitis

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 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:

Senator Lisa Murkowski –
Senator Dan Sullivan –
Congressman Don Young –

For more information on how to comment or testify in person, please visit or contact:

  • Hannah Heimbuch — Community Fisheries Organizer — Homer (907) 299-4018 or
  • Theresa Peterson — Kodiak Outreach Coordinator — Kodiak, (907) 539-1927 or

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:

For past updates on this issue, click here.

Bering Sea halibut bycatch cuts critical for conservation

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 The deadline to comment is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26.

Connecting the coast; bycatch in the Bering Sea

By Marissa Wilson, AMCC Board Member
Originally published in the Homer Tribune

marissa-wilsonA 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

For more on the issue visit: halibut bycatch.

PRESS RELEASE: Alaska Groups, Communities Urge Council to Lower 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.
Tanadgusix Corporation
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.


Coastal Legislators to NPFMC RE: BSAI Halibut Bycatch 4/15/15

Letter to Alaska Congressional Delegation RE: Halibut PSC 4/22/15

Homer Area Advisory Committee Bycatch Resolution to ADF&G 4/14/15

April Meeting Tackles Chinook Bycatch

Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Salmon Bycatch

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) concluded its April meeting last week following several days of discussion on the issue of salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fisheries. In-river salmon fishermen who are experiencing low returns of king salmon and restrictions on traditional subsistence harvest expressed deep concerns for the conservation of the ailing Chinook population in western Alaska. On the other side was testimony from the pollock fleet unwilling to drop bycatch caps. AMCC supported the western Alaska communities in urging a reduced bycatch cap because of the serious state of the Chinook population and dire circumstances for families who rely on Chinook for local economies and way of life.

The Council adopted a suite of measures anticipated to reduce Chinook and chum salmon bycatch. A key part of the Council’s decision, and the focus of much of the debate, was lowering the hard cap and performance standard for Chinook salmon in times of low abundance. The State of Alaska led a strong charge to provide protections for Western Alaska salmon stocks. Commissioner Sam Cotten put forward a motion calling for a 35% reduction in the performance standard and a 33% reduction in the hard cap. Those numbers were amended by Washington State’s representative to a 25% reduction in the hard cap and a 30% reduction in the performance standard. This lesser reduction is what passed in the Council’s final motion, 10-0. The lower performance standard and hard cap apply in years of low Chinook salmon abundance –years in which the combined total run size for the Unalakleet, Upper Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers is less than 250,000 fish. In years when the stock falls below that boundary, the hard cap would be reduced from 60,000 fish to 45,000, and the performance standard from 47,591 to 33,318.

Beyond the changes to the caps, the Council’s action incorporates important mechanisms to reduce Chinook and chum salmon bycatch in all conditions of salmon abundance. Incentive Plan Agreements (IPAs) create incentives for vessels to reduce bycatch. With this latest action, chum bycatch reduction measures will be incorporated into the Chinook IPA.  The Council also added additional provisions to the IPAs — including enacting penalties or restrictions for vessels that maintain higher Chinook bycatch rates than others, requiring the use of salmon excluder devices, and restrictions on bycatch in October, which is historically a time of high bycatch. The options the Council selected under Alternative 4 allow the pollock fishery the flexibility to catch more of their harvest in the late A season, potentially shifting harvest effort away from the high bycatch times later in the year.

On Deck: Halibut Bycatch at June NPFMC Meeting

We leave the April Council meeting behind with a close eye on June’s upcoming halibut bycatch decision in Sitka. The Council will be taking final action to reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries by up to 50 percent. After major declines in the directed fishery over the last 10 years, and a steady rate of bycatch in major groundfish operations, it’s critical that the Council reduces halibut bycatch in June. We will continue to keep you informed in the coming weeks about ways you can help support meaningful halibut bycatch reductions. For more information and past updates on the halibut bycatch crisis, click here.

Final Action on Bering Sea Chinook Bycatch

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Anchorage in just a couple of weeks for their April meeting. The meeting week kicks off with the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) meeting on Monday, April 6 and the Advisory Panel starts Tuesday, April 7. The Council itself starts up Wed., April 8 and runs through April 13. The big item on this agenda is final action on Bering Sea salmon bycatch, with a focus on reducing both chum and Chinook salmon bycatch. With Chinook salmon populations in severe decline throughout Western Alaska, and complete closures of even the subsistence fisheries on the Yukon River, it’s critical that the Council takes meaningful action to reduce bycatch at this time. The Council will also take final action on allowing longline pot fishing for sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska and will discuss ecosystem-based management in the Bering Sea.

*Comments on all agenda items are due by 5pm on Tuesday, March 31 – email to (See below for more details about the issues and how to comment).

Bering Sea Salmon Bycatch

Final action on salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery is certainly the headlining act at the April Council meeting. The action before the Council considers changes to chum salmon bycatch reduction measures to provide for greater reduction of chum salmon bycatch and better integration of chum and Chinook salmon bycatch measures. Given the disastrously low Chinook salmon runs in Western Alaska, Chinook salmon bycatch is the major focus of this action. While caps on Chinook salmon bycatch have been in place since 2011, the rapid and dramatic declines in Chinook salmon populations necessitates changes to these caps and management measures to respond to the current crisis.  The options (Alternatives) which the Council is considering include:

  • Alternative 2: Combining Chinook and chum salmon bycatch measures to ensure that chum bycatch reduction efforts do not increase Chinook salmon bycatch;
  • Alternative 3: Requiring changes to the Incentive Plan Agreements to achieve greater bycatch reduction. Options include penalizing vessels with consistently high bycatch, requiring use of salmon excluders, and specific changes to operation of the plans.
  • Alternative 4: Changing the start and/or end dates of the pollock fishing season and distribution of pollock quota between seasons to minimize bycatch;
  • Alternative 5: Reducing the performance standard (currently 47,591 Chinook salmon) and possibly also the hard cap (currently 60,000) for Chinook salmon bycatch by 25% – 60% in times of low abundance of Western Alaska Chinook salmon stocks.

To ensure that Chinook salmon bycatch is reduced in times of low abundance, and to ensure that when subsistence fisheries are closed the pollock fishery bycatch is greatly reduced as well, it is critical that the Council takes final action at this meeting and puts new regulations into effect quickly. We join with many Western Alaska groups in asking the Council to reduce the overall cap and performance cap for Chinook salmon bycatch by the maximum under consideration (60%) in times of low salmon abundance (Alternative 5, option 2, with the suboption to apply the 60% reduction to the overall hard cap). Alternative 2 and Alternative 3, options 1-5, should be selected as well.

Gulf of Alaska Sablefish Longline Pots

Also on the docket for the April Council meeting are measures to allow fishermen to use longline pots to harvest sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska with a goal of reducing whale predation. The Council will take final action on an amendment that would allow the use of pot longline gear by Gulf sablefish operations fishing IFQs. In addition to the reducing the fishery impact of whale predation on longline gear, the Council is also considering ways to reduce gear conflicts between pot and longline fishermen harvesting in the same area.

Ecosystem-Based Management

Amid the constant bustle of management issues, the Council is also doing some proactive thinking to further their work on ecosystem-based management. At the April meeting, the Council will hear a report from the Ecosystem Committee and continue to discuss the utility of undertaking a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Bering Sea. An FEP provides an opportunity for the Council to look at fisheries management in a more holistic context, rather than in the single-species context under which current management occurs. AMCC is actively engaged in this work and is encouraging the Council to move forward with an FEP for the Bering Sea.

How to Comment:

  • Send written comments by 5pm on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 to or
    North Pacific Fishery Management Council
    605 West 4th Ave, Suite 306
    Anchorage, AK  99501
    Fax:  (907) 271-2817
    Include your name, affiliation, and date, and identify the agenda item in the subject line.
  • Provide testimony: The Council takes testimony on every agenda item. The meeting starts April 6 and runs through April 13 at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel. To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins. View the schedule here.

Other Ways to Participate:

  • Support AMCC’s work on these important issues: AMCC has staff at every Council meeting, advocating for the health of our marine ecosystems and fishing communities. Donations from members like you are essential to maintaining our role at the Council. Help support our work by investing in healthy oceans and coastal communities today: donate now.

For More Information

The Council posts analyses, public comments, motions and other documents linked from their agenda. Just scroll down to the agenda item you’re interested in. For the full Council agenda, schedule, and more on the April meeting, visit:

Positive Progress at Oct. NPFMC Meeting

Community Protections, Bycatch Reduction Move Forward for Analysis

Earlier this week, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) wrapped up another long meeting at the Anchorage Hilton. The Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management program (aka catch shares) dominated the agenda, with over 30 people providing testimony to the Council. At this meeting, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell made a motion to move forward with a formal set of “alternatives” or options for analysis and the Council voted unanimously in favor of this motion. This is an important step, as it frames the Council’s choices as they move forward with developing this program.

After hours of public testimony and 100 letters supporting the move, the Council included reductions for Chinook salmon bycatch in the pollock fishery (up to 25% reduction) and halibut bycatch for all trawl fisheries (up to 15% reduction) as options for analysis. Given the deteriorating condition of Chinook salmon and halibut stocks, including bycatch reduction up front is critical, and this makes additional bycatch reduction beyond the status quo a key decision point.

The Council also included a Community Fishing Association and an Adaptive Management Program as options under a separate option – Alternative 3. Alternative 3 provides for a 5-15% allocation to either a Community Fishing Association or an Adaptive Management Program. AMCC has been working with Gulf of Alaska community residents to develop and support a Community Fishing Association. Including these options provides for meaningful ways to protect coastal communities from negative impacts in a catch share program and offers a novel approach to ensure coastal communities retain access to the resource outside their doors.

Finally, the Council also added options for requiring active participation (either through ownership of a vessel or participation in the fishery) to purchase a trawl license or catch history and to continue to hold it. This provides a key mechanism for ensuring that those who hold licenses/catch history (quota) are active participants in the fishery, rather than allowing non-active participants to hold quota and charge lease fees for others to fish it.

All of these changes are merely options for analysis at this point, and there is a long road ahead before the Council makes any decisions about selecting one alternative or another. Keeping the pressure on to ensure that the final program reduces bycatch and protects coastal communities is critical. The Council is scheduled to take this agenda item up again in April 2015 in Anchorage.

The Council also discussed the observer program and approved changes for 2015. Starting in 2015 vessels from 40 to 57.5 feet will be in the “trip selection” pool and will be required to register all fishing trips with NMFS – watch your mailbox for more information on how to register. They also moved forward with development of the Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan, tasking the Ecosystem Committee with developing goals and objectives.

Full motions from the Council meeting are available via links from the Council agenda here. The Council’s newsletter describing these actions in greater detail is posted here.

For more info:

GOA Trawl Bycatch management:
Alaska Journal of Commerce
Fishermen’s News Online, including a quote from AMCC’s Theresa Peterson

Observer Plan: Alaska Journal of Commerce

Catch shares – a cost to coastal communities

As Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management/catch shares are coming up at this week’s North Pacific Fishery Management Meeting in Anchorage (Oct. 6-14), we wanted to feature AMCC supporter and Gulf of Alaska fisherman, Alexus Kwachka’s views on the issue. The op-ed below can also be found in the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

Catch shares come at a cost to coastal communities

“We are a fishing community. That’s one aspect of commercial fishing that everyone in Kodiak agrees on. We have an active waterfront and an infrastructure built to sustain our fishing town into the future. We have invested a tremendous amount of money to supply the volume of water and electricity needed to process fish. We’ve invested in a boat yard to maintain our vessels and many support businesses rely on the fleet to make ends meet. We are built on fish.

I have spent the last three decades fishing here and have seen a lot of changes. The change that concerns me the most is a relatively new federal fish policy called catch shares that gives away fishing rights to those fortunate few who are in the right place at the right time. If these fishing rights leave Kodiak – how do we get them back? How does the next generation find and afford these rights?

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is in the midst of developing a new management program for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet. A goal of the new program is to provide the tools to the trawl fleet to reduce bycatch of prohibited species like halibut, Chinook salmon and crab. These valuable species are caught as bycatch in trawl fisheries and are vital to coastal communities for our livelihoods and subsistence. The change is good and management should continually strive to reduce bycatch. However, as I read through the recently released discussion paper outlining the new management program I am struck with a depressing case of Déjà Vu — – are we really going to do this again? Is the State of Alaska really going to support a catch share program, which gives away the fishing rights of valuable groundfish species in the Gulf of Alaska to trawlers who are currently active in the fishery? Why would Alaska and Kodiak residents want to do this again? I understand the need to provide tools for the trawl fleet to reduce bycatch – in fact the trawl fleet has been operating under voluntary cooperative management agreements for years in the Pollock seasons. It appears to be working.

Despite the success of the voluntary coop, the discussion at the NPFMC continues to explore a more permanent solution through a catch share system, which would allocate quota based on a suite of qualifying years. It is all very complicated but at the end of the day it’s the same old thing we know all too well —– give away the rights to a public resource.

Catch shares come at a cost to coastal communities and these costs are well documented. They include loss of access for the next generation, lower crew pay, consolidation and flight of capital to name a few. We know this will happen; it is time to do something different. Community Fishing Associations are authorized in the Magnuson Stevens Act, the law governing our federal fisheries. They serve as a tool to anchor quota into historically dependent coastal communities. A Community Fishing Association can hold quota through an initial allocation and be structured to allow community values such as bycatch reduction, crew shares and community stability to be addressed effectively.

It is time to be proactive and innovative in designing this program. This community must be engaged and as community members we need to speak up.

The trawl industry is at the table, so should the rest of us.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is spending a lot of time talking about this at their meeting in October. Send a letter and share your concerns and hopes for the future of Kodiak as a fishing community. Letters addressing C-7 GOA Trawl Bycatch can be emailed to and must be received by September 30th to be included in Council members’ packets.

We need to be at the table, let’s work together to find management programs that work to better this community as a whole.


Alexus Kwachka

Longtime Kodiak fisherman, member of the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council”

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