What’s the Latest on Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch?

Halibut Bycatch Updates

For more than a year, dual concerns regarding declining halibut stocks and community access in the Bering Sea have been a hot button issue for both the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council). Despite committed efforts by a diverse array of stakeholders, the precarious state of the Bering Sea halibut fishery remains uncertain heading into the end of 2015.

International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC)

During its December interim meeting, the IPHC will be releasing its 2015 stock assessment and 2016 harvest decision table. The stock assessment provides managers with the status of halibut throughout its range in the North Pacific, while the harvest decision table guides the Commission’s decision-making as it sets the annual catch limits for 2016. These reports will play a significant role in whether the fishermen in the Bering Sea will have a directed fishery in 2016.

The IPHC is also in a state of transition: in the coming months, the Commission will be hiring a new Executive Director to oversee the IPHC. Additionally, President Obama will make appointments for the two U.S. public seats on the Commission by early 2016. Our hope is that whoever fills these roles will effectively advocate for coastal communities and conservation of the resource, while also bridging the communication and decision making gap between the IPHC and the Council.

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North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council)

The Council’s December meeting is fast approaching and it is filled with halibut bycatch agenda items. The Council will first take action on 2016 catch limits for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries, where it may consider reducing catch limits for fish with high rates of halibut bycatch. Although an unorthodox approach in some ways, a reduction in groundfish catch limits could provide short-term relief to both the resource and the halibut-dependent communities of the Bering Sea.

With long-term solutions in mind, the Council will also take up two agenda items that could provide significant improvements to halibut management. First, it will continue public scoping on its draft Halibut Management Framework. The draft framework could provide for more regular and meaningful communication between the Council and the IPHC, as well as enhance avenues for stakeholder input. Next, the Council will be reviewing a discussion paper on abundance-based management for halibut bycatch. AMCC fully supports the Council’s efforts to move toward abundance based management, provided the new management approach contains appropriate conservation and community safeguards.

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Proposed Bycatch Rule

The National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking public comments on the proposed rule that would implement the Council’s bycatch recommendations from this past June. Comments are due December 28, 2015. This is your opportunity to tell the National Marine Fisheries Service that the Council did not go far enough in reducing bycatch.

You may submit comments on the proposed rule via the Federal e-Rulemaking portal. Go to!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2015-0092, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

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