Fish News

2018 National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Summit

SEAGO Executive Director Samantha Weinstein and Board President Tom Ohaus, owner of Sitka-based Angling Unlimited, joined Andy Mezirow, Council member from Seward; Richard Yamada, charter operator from Juneau; and Dave Witherell, NPFMC Executive Director, in Washington, D.C., on March 28-29 for the Summit.  Speakers and attendees arrived from every coastal region of the United States, representing recreational anglers, charter operators, fishery managers, conservationists, and manufacturing industries.

The atmosphere at this Summit was wholly optimistic, from the tone of the speakers to story sharing during breaks, and it quickly became clear that the Administration recognizes the important contributions of our $63 billion (yes, with a B) industry. NOAA Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver opened and closed the event with speeches emphasizing the importance of recreational fisheries, both to himself and the Administration.  He expressed a need to spread the level of trust in science that he saw in Alaska, between scientists, managers, and the public, across the United States.  This enthusiasm was shared by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who spoke to Summit attendees on Thursday.  After an introduction by Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, Secretary Ross discussed the significant contribution of recreational fisheries to the United States economy.

Some attendees have been involved in, and frustrated by, fisheries politics for over four decades, and they were energized along with the rest of us by the elevated position of the recreational angling community on the national stage.  This energy created rapt audiences and full participation in the two-day discussion.  Economic contributions and innovative management approaches led the first day of the Summit.  Speakers covered the Alaska’s Recreational Quota Entity, alternatives to annual catch limits, efficient and real time data collection, and regional studies on the economic impacts of recreational fishing.  These ideas carried over into an afternoon breakout session, where Alaska and Pacific coast representatives brainstormed opportunities and challenges moving forward.   On day two, attendees discussed collaborative data collection, electronic reporting, and conservation.  Speakers and breakout groups were enthusiastic about using new technology to improve angling opportunities and stability for the fisheries – after all, we all have our smartphones in our pockets at all times!  Conservation ideas were not just a focus on day two, but were spread through every discussion, from quality data collection to habitat restoration to managing based on real-time abundance levels.

In addition to shared optimism for the community, perhaps the best outcome of the Summit were the connections we made and revived with folks from around the country.  Alaska is already well regarded for its innovative management and strong science, and these connections inspired new ideas and approaches for us to research for the future.  Check out some of them here:

NOAA is compiling the discussions and ideas generated into a full report and action items for the Administration, which we will share with you once it is released.

News from Southeast Conference

SEAGO is pleased to share some positive updates on fishing and tourism opportunities in Southeast Alaska after a rough few months.  Executive Director Samantha Weinstein attended this week’s Southeast Conference Mid-Session Summit in Juneau, to hear updates from industries vital to the Southeast economy.  Governor Bill Walker gave the opening address, making a specific note on the projected increase in Asian visitors thanks to last summer’s visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Topics covered at the conference included maritime and fisheries, energy, timber, mining, and general economic development.  Most interesting for our charter captains and guides was Wednesday’s panel on the Southeast visitor industry, notably the presentation by John Binkley, President of Cruise Lines International Association of Alaska.

Let’s start with Mr. Binkley’s breakdown of the 2017 visitor season:

  • Passengers, cruise lines, and crew spent nearly $1 billion Statewide – that’s $6.5 million per day for 150 days
    • Municipal revenues from visitors totaled $82.9 million
    • State revenues from visitors totaled $104.8 million
  • Skagway’s number of visitors has increased 47.6% since 2011
  • Ketchikan’s number of visitors has increased 38.4% since 2011
  • Visitor spending in Skagway, Ketchikan, and Juneau has gone up approximately $50 million since 2011
  • 93% of Juneau visitors arrived by cruise ship, a total of 1,089,700 passengers
    • Juneau cruise ship passengers spent $176.6 million taxable dollars
    • Juneau Alaska Airlines arrivals spent $44.4 million taxable dollars

Looking forward:

  • 2018 is projected to be another record-breaking year, with an anticipated 7% growth in Alaska cruise ship visitors (1,165,500 visitors)
  • The FIRST PUBLIC RELEASE of 2019 preliminary projections show a 12% growth in Alaska cruise ship visitor numbers from the projections for 2018 (1,310,000 visitors)
    • This is thanks to new ships entering the market between now and 2026, as well as new cruise providers visiting Southeast
  • The projected economic impact of this growth is a $137.5 million increase in taxable passenger spending, as well as a $7.6 million increase in passenger entry fees for a projected total fee collection of $45.2 million.

(see the full presentation HERE)

What does this mean for guided sport fishing?

More opportunities.

Some of you may already be in contact with cruise ship operators traveling through your town each season.  For those of you dedicating blocks of time to those ships, it is important to note the new companies traveling through Alaska for the first time when considering future marketing opportunities.  If your company has a business model which does not work with cruise ship schedules, these next few years may be a good time to review this decision.  While many passengers consider visits to Alaska as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, others are struck by a love for our scenic beauty and plan future visits.  These return visitors are often adventurers and sport anglers – in other words, future guided anglers and multi-day lodge visitors.

The Southeast Alaska Tourism Council’s Liz Perry also spoke at the conference.  The Tourism Council is a cooperative marketing organization for Southeast’s Inside Passage, working with the convention and visitor’s bureaus of Skagway, Haines, Yakutat, Gustavus, Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg, Ketchikan, and Juneau.  Its design is to strengthen the Southeast brand image in the visitor marketplace and strengthen brand unity between communities.  If you are not familiar with this marketing opportunity, we encourage you to take a look at their website and talk to your local visitor’s bureau for more information.

December Update: Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization

Those of you tracking national legislation may have heard that Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is pushing forward a rewrite of the bill to reauthorize the MSA. Many of the proposals for change are coming from the recreational sector, which has a stronger national political position than ever before. SEAGO is excited about the opportunities this could bring Alaska in the long run, and remains cautious about some of the proposed changes in light of our unique situation in Alaska.

On its surface, increasing flexibility to modernize the MSA sounds like a great idea to account for the different management needs of the commercial and recreational fleet. When it comes to catching halibut in Alaska, however, the guided sportfishing fleet operates under a catch sharing plan with the commercial fleet.  The allocation under our CSP is directly tied to the abundance of the halibut resource, and the success of the CSP requires an ongoing commitment to scientifically established annual catch limits, intended to protect our stock for the long term. Part of the proposals for amending the MSA ask Congress to disregard the existing science for creating annual catch limits, when what we need in Alaska is better data to work from.

If you want to protect our halibut and Chinook resources, we suggest advocating for improvements:

  • Support Council actions implementing cost-effective electronic monitoring across the commercial fleet
  • Support Council actions reducing bycatch of Pacific halibut and Chinook salmon, and tying bycatch to abundance
  • Create and/or support improved practices for collecting unguided recreational catch data, such as smart phone apps
  • Help create and/or support data collection for stock assessments, including vocally supporting MSA Reauthorization Sections aimed towards improving data collection and analysis
  • Push for improving public access to the Council process

These are only a few of the concrete actions you can take which will contribute to improving the health of our halibut stock. A Commentary recently released by Council member Andy Mezirow also addresses this issue from an Alaskan perspective. Let us know if you have other suggestions!

Latency is a No-Go, Rental Boat Registration Moves Forward

No Action on Latent Capacity

We spoke to many of you about the Council’s ideas for reducing the latent capacity of charter halibut permits (CHP). Having latent capacity roughly means that there are CHP holders who take fewer trips than available in the season (considered to run from February-December). If these CHP holders increase the number of trips they take, the increase in angler effort affects the upcoming season’s management measures. If the Council limits how many more trips CHP holders can take, it could be a step towards stabilizing management measures.  It could also limit the business opportunities of some CHP holders.

Our discussions with you included questions about how likely an increase in trips really is, how CHPs would qualify, how recently purchased CHPs would be affected, and more. Your voice then came through loud and clear at the Council, which decided not to move this issue forward. Sportfishing representative Andy Mezirow explained the decision:

“I do not think the document provided any evidence that reducing a small amount of latency would have any effect. Any more effort in addition to where we are will begin to erode the financial viability of the charter fleet.”  He also noted that moving this forward could “immediately create losers” among recent CHP purchasers, rural communities, and CQE groups, while increasing trips if folks aim to build up their catch history.  The Council agreed with Mr. Mezirow’s motion unanimously.

Taken up at the same time was a proposal to increase the ownership cap on CHPs for the Recreational Quota Entity, which the Council also tabled until the RQE is formed and functioning.

Self-Guided Rental Boat Registration Moving Forward

The Council asked its staff to write an expanded discussion paper on this registration requirement. The paper will focus on the growth of the unguided rental boat industry as a response to the differences in regulations between the guided and unguided sector. The paper will lay out and analyze the administrative and other needs to create a registration for operations affiliated with saltwater guide businesses and estimate catch from this segment of the unguided sector. Having better catch information will help the Council decide whether it should take action in the future. The paper is on the agenda for the June 2018 meeting in Kodiak, but it may be rescheduled for an Anchorage meeting, so business owners can attend.

October 2017 Council Update

Agenda Item C1: Charter Annual Registration Initial Review

Why is the Council taking action?

  • Without updated information, NMFS and the Council can’t understand or track changes and trends in ownership, participation, and latency.
  • These trends help them evaluate whether changes to the CHP program are necessary
    • This includes retirement of non-transferable permits when ownership changes
  • Better information helps enforcement make sure CHPs are valid on the water

What did the Council decide at this meeting?

  • The annual registration should move forward for public review
  • The Preliminary Preferred Alternative (PPA, action most likely to pass) is:
    • Alternative 2: Implement an annual registration process for transferable and non-transferable charter halibut permits (CHP). A CHP holder must submit the following information to NMFS on an annual basis to register a CHP:
      • CHP Number
      • CHP holder name (individual or non-individual entity), and
      • CHP holder address
      • [add phone number &/or e-mail address]
      • If a CHP holder is not registered with NMFS, the CHP would not be valid for use during the applicable fishing year.
    • Alternative 2, Option 1, additional requirement
      • List CHP ownership, e.g., ownership holdings for the CHP by individual(s), partners, or a corporate entity

Discussion Topics:

  • Lack of definition for leasing:
    • Council staff assumed that the Council meant some sort of financial transaction
    • SEAGO said: this is not the appropriate time or paper in which to discuss leasing
  • Fees:
    • The analysis indicates that
      • There is no authority to collect fees under the Pacific Halibut Act;
      • Fees might not cover the cost of implementing a fee collection program
      • Funds go to the U.S. Treasury and have to be appropriated by Congress back to NMFS for this program, this appropriation is not a guarantee
    • SEAGO said: repeated points from staff analysis, but not opposed to further analysis regarding making this program viable and showing that we have skin in the game. We need dedicated personnel, and if a reasonable fee amount is necessary, then we’ll consider the amount proposed and how NMFS will use it.
  • Adding an Option 4:
    • This option would add a question for CHP holders
      • Is the CHP user not part of the ownership structure?
      • What are the agreed upon terms?
        • No compensation, compensation by percentage, flat fee, combination of flat fee and percentage, or other
      • AP voted in favor of Option 4 after excluding parts of the question asking for specific financial information
        • Would this provide relevant data or data they already have access to?
      • Not initially included in Council Motion
        • Not included because:
          • The problem statement doesn’t mention leasing and leasing is not defined, so these questions might not be helpful to learn about an undefined activity
          • We already have access to most of this information
        • Added back in as an Amendment for more analysis, not PPA

Agenda Item C2: Mixing Guided & Unguided Halibut on a Fishing Vessel Initial Review

Why is the Council taking action?

  • This issue was raised as a concern of the Enforcement Committee
  • NOAA Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) agents have encountered some multi-day fishing vessels which have both guided and unguided halibut in vessel freezers
    • Cannot tell which fish were caught by guided clients and which were caught unguided by clients or crew
    • OLE has trouble enforcing compliance with the guided limit

What did the Council decide at this meeting?

  • Move this issue forward for a public review draft
    • Include changes suggested by Staff and the Enforcement Committee
    • Expanded discussion on:
      • Historical changes in mgmt. measures
      • Expanded discussion of regulatory history of actions prohibiting mixing halibut, e.g., cannot sport and commercial fish off the same vessel at the same time, cannot subsistence and commercial fish at the same time
      • Specific information on businesses which might be affected
    • PPA:
      • Alternative 3: if halibut harvested using sport fishing guide services is possessed with halibut harvested not using sport fishing guide services on Convention waters in Area 2C or 3A, the IPHC annual management measures for guided sport fishing for the area in which the halibut was harvested apply to all halibut onboard the fishing vessel

Discussion Topics:

  • SEAGO said: an action like this, done with no supporting information, does more to politically divide guided and unguided sport fishing, to the detriment of guided sport fishing, than it may help with on the water enforcement. We need full analysis of supporting information.
  • After hearing from Tim Comer, owner of Sea Otter Sound Floating Lodge, about existing floating lodges and seeing photos of his operation, Council staff and the Enforcement Committee held a discussion regarding necessary changes to the public review draft of the analysis
  • Need to more clearly define who this action applies to:
    • Two-prong test:
      • S. Code definition of vessel: capable of being used for transportation
      • Halibut Act definition of fishing vessel is the next step after determining if something is a vessel
    • Can provide examples of things which are not a vessel, including floating lodges subject to restrictions that the operation not move
  • OLE’s major concern is what is actually happening on the water

These issues will be up for final action at the April 2018 meeting in Anchorage to encourage members of the public to provide testimony.

5 Meetings You Might Have Missed

1. Alaska Hearing on the MSA Reauthorization

Last week, Sen. Sullivan (R-Alaska) hosted a meeting in Soldotna to discuss the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) reauthorization with prominent Alaskans. The MSA initially passed in 1976 to enhance the sustainability of U.S. marine fisheries. It governs both commercial and recreational fisheries and Congress typically updates it every ten years; the last update happened in 2007.

Reed Morisky, a fishing guide and the sport fishing representative on the Board of Fish, spoke alongside ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten, North Pacific Fishery Management Council Chairman Dan Hull, and eleven other business, conservation, and fishery representatives. A common thread between this meeting and earlier MSA hearings is the need for the federal government to invest additional funds and personnel towards collecting accurate fishery data. Without accurate data, there is an annual risk of either overly conservative management or overfishing.

In addition to data needs, Morisky and other sportfishing panelists emphasized the importance of recognizing recreational fishing as distinct from commercial fishing in the MSA’s reauthorization process. Recreational fishing, while sharing conservation goals with the commercial fisheries, is typically perceived as taking a backseat to commercial issues when it comes to budget and catch allocations, as well as management. Without adequate resources, management decisions are made with slim analyses using commercial data. With only commercial data available, managers cannot determine the actual economic impacts of the sport fleet, the health of local fisheries, or the impact of different recreational regulations. Through the MSA reauthorization process, SEAGO is and will work with sportfishing representatives like Reed Morisky and our Congressional Delegation to ensure that these concerns are heard.

To see individual testimony from panelists or watch the hearing yourself, click HERE. Please note that this link has been updated today to correct panelist information and repair audio/visual problems. Due to recording complications, audio begins after eight minutes. Mr. Morisky’s testimony begins at 13:09 of the video clip.

For a synopsis of the meeting from fisheries reporter Elizabeth Earl, click HERE.

2. Early August Meetings on the MSA Reauthorization

Senate Hearing

Sen. Sullivan led a MSA reauthorization meeting in early August where he heard testimony from Chris Oliver, an Alaskan who led our North Pacific Fishery Management Council until his recent hire as the Assistant Administrator of NOAA Fisheries. Mr. Oliver and Dr. John Quinn from the Northeast Council responded to various questions and concerns from the Senators regarding how the MSA operates across the country.

As Mr. Oliver pointed out, and Mr. Morisky emphasized last week, recreational fisheries are managed under catch limits and accountability measures designed for the commercial fleets. According to Mr. Oliver, to successfully manage recreational fisheries, we need to expand our toolbox and increase flexibility in management. Right now, the recreational fishery lacks comprehensive stock assessments and the ability to know what’s going on in real time. If we can get better information today about fish coming out of the water, we absolutely need to do that. These two very different fisheries cannot keep relying on information collection designed for the commercial fleet.

Sen. Sullivan later quoted Oliver, saying that “[fisheries management is] often a strained balancing act that forces tough choices between competing interests.”

To watch the hearing, click HERE.

House Hearing

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) also held a meeting regarding the successes and challenges of the MSA, with four industry members invited to answer questions for the committee. There was general agreement that the MSA is successful, but can be improved. This success is attributed to MSA requirements for rebuilding and sustaining fishery stocks, which have been successfully implemented since Congress enacted the MSA. The panel also addressed a need for flexibility, as did the Senate meeting above, though the focus here was on flexibility for rebuilding stocks and avoiding duplicative requirements of other Acts, such as the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. Panelists did not all agree on the need for flexibility, though an overarching agreement lay in the need for more data to make management decisions.

3. NOAA Budget

The National Oceanic and Administrative Agency (NOAA) is the parent agency for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Ocean Service (NOS), and Ocean and Atmospheric Research (OAR). These divisions are vital to fisheries management, ocean research, weather research, and research and conservation grant programs, to name a few. Funding for NOAA Fisheries starts with the President’s Proposed Budget, which goes to the House of Representatives. After the House comes up with its own budget proposal, it goes to the Senate for consideration. If there is disagreement between the budgets, the proposals go to a joint conference committee to find a compromise budget. The Senate is finishing its hearings this summer and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is an important voice in this process.

The proposed cuts to NOAA were originally severe, and the House responded to public outcries at the loss of research funding by adding back in portions of the proposed cuts. The Senate went a step further and reinstated most funding at the same level as last year, slightly cutting some programs and increasing the budgets for a few. NMFS’s programs were among those the Senate proposed to increase, as well as the Sea Grant program within OAR. Sen. Murkowski spoke to the importance of NOAA and its work when she helped make these changes. Murkowski specifically mentioned the importance of the Sea Grant program back in March, writing a letter to the Office of Management and Budget regarding the tens of thousands of jobs, students, and businesses Sea Grant supports annually.

The budget will likely go straight to the conference committee to find a compromise budget.  SEAGO is following the NOAA budget so you don’t have to, but we encourage you to participate!

If this issue is important to you, your business, and your community, we suggest 1) making a phone call, 2) talking about it on social media, 3) attending a Town Hall, 4) writing to your local paper, or 5) posting on your blog page to let your Senators and Representative(s) know why NOAA is important to you. Use #TheMoreYouNOAA to join the nation in protecting our fisheries managers.

4. Mat-Su Fish & Wildlife Commission

Guides, lodge owners, and anglers showed up alongside the Borough Mayor to a Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting last Tuesday with Commissioner Sam Cotton and other top ADFG officials. Speakers expressed significant concerns with this summer’s commercial openings in light of the low number returning to the area rivers. Officials responded that comments should be directed to the Board of Fish, and that the 20-30 anglers who expressed these concerns at the BOF meeting in March were somehow insignificant to decision making. Howard Delo, a retired ADFG biologist and former BOF member, questioned the weight given to commercial interests in discussing summer management.

Sitting quietly in the audience were members of the Mat-Su Legislative delegation. Though the Mat-Su Fish & Wildlife Commission advises the local Assembly and BOF, the Legislature confirms BOF members, establishes BOF authority, and can pass legislation affecting fisheries. Perhaps it’s time to find your legislators and let them know how important sport fishing is to you during their downtime?

5. Kodiak Community Forum

Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Yakutat/Kodiak/Cordova) convened a community forum in Kodiak last week with Speaker of the House Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham), Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan), and other members of the Legislature to discuss, among other things, a bill proposed to protect salmon streams from potentially harmful nearby development. The bill, H.B. 199, would also update other provisions of ADFG’s governing statutes, statutes which the Legislature has not revised for fifty years, and increase public comment opportunities for development projects. Additional public meetings are scheduled around the State to discuss the bill before the House Fisheries Committee reconvenes in January.

SEAGO submitted a Letter of Support when Rep. Stutes initially proposed this Legislation, read the HB199 SEAGO Letter of Support.  Find your legislators if you want to weigh in on this or other fisheries issues the Legislature will address this session.

Supporting the Pacific Salmon Treaty Coalition

Salmon are without a doubt making big headlines in Alaska today, from #AKSalmonDay to the sport and troll king salmon closures. Both have raised the topic of the Pacific Salmon Treaty (PST), which most of us don’t think about every day.

The PST is currently in the final few years of the current 10-year agreement and Alaska negotiators are working with their Southern US and Canadian counterparts to hammer out the details of the next 10-year deal. Adherence to the Treaty requires millions of dollars, many spent by the States themselves, to provide stock assessment, technical work, reporting, and administrative oversight. Shortfalls in many state budgets are starting to erode resources necessary to meet our Treaty requirements.

You may have recently received a letter from Pacific Salmon Treaty Coalition Executive Director, Deborah Lyons, asking your business to participate in a letter writing campaign asking the federal government to adequately fund Treaty implementation and to relieve the burden currently placed on the individual States for Treaty implementation. The Pacific Salmon Treaty Coalition (PSTC) is an industry group designed to support support Alaska in its negotiations on the PST, and is funded by aquaculture associations, processors, and gear groups, including ATA, USAG, SEAS, and SEAGO. The coalition has six board members: one seiner, one gillnetter, one troller, one sport rep (SEAGO’s own Russell Thomas), one hatchery rep, and a subsistence rep. If you did not receive a letter, read the letter HERE because they need our support.

We know you are busy but are asking you to take just a few minutes to fill out the letter and submit it back to the PSTC. Showing solidarity between all fishing groups in SE Alaska is one way we can send a powerful message to our delegation in Washington, DC. If you have the inclination and time, having a few of your employees and/or guests participate as well would further help their cause.

SEAGO encourages you to take this Second Annual Wild Salmon Day and show your support. Sign on to the letter, then go grill your catch to perfection.

Time For A New Adventure: Saying Good-Bye to Chris Oliver

The administration announced NPFMC’s Executive Director Chris Oliver as the new NOAA Assistant Administrator in May (pending final approval).  In response, the Council organized a heartfelt good-bye to its longest serving Executive Director.  In his roles with the Council, Mr. Oliver staffed 79 meetings with four Council Chairpersons, and spent four months of his life in the air on Council business.  During his presentation, Deputy Director David Witherell recalled Mr. Oliver’s sport fishing skills, hunting prowess, and general overachievement.

The mood was light as NMFS, USCG, and Council staff presented Mr. Oliver with departure gifts, though current Council Chairman Dan Hull teared up discussing Mr. Oliver’s pragmatism, openness to alternative views, and support for all fishing communities.  Echoing Chairman Hull, every speaker emphasized that our region’s loss is a huge gain for the nation.  Oliver stood to speak at the end of the embarrassing stories and heartfelt farewells, looked around, and said, “I sure hope that final approval comes through now.”  He continued on, saying that the reputation of this Council and its staff were the real reason he received this opportunity, and he intends to do them proud.

We’ll reel-y miss you, Chris.  So long, and thanks for all the fish.

2017 Joint Meeting: NPFMC & IPHC

During the June Council meeting, the IPHC met jointly with the Council on halibut issues, like abundance based management for halibut bycatch and observer coverage. As much as these managers enjoy opportunities to work together, this meeting held some underlying tension. Discussing observer coverage of the commercial fleet, a Canadian commissioner noted that the Canadian fleet has 100% observer coverage by humans and electronic monitoring. He said that Canadians objected initially to the costs, but it is now considered a part of doing business because they know behavior changes when someone is watching.

As it stands, observer coverage of trawl vessels is up from 28% in 2016 to 32% in 2017, covering 18% of boats delivering shoreside & 14% of boats delivering to tenders. Hook and line observer coverage is at 36%. These numbers only represent human observers, as electronic monitoring is essentially in its test phase. In response, Council member Andy Mezirow and Chairman Dan Hull made pointed comments about the vast strides the U.S. program has made, largely through grant and interest group funding. Chairman Hull also directed the Commissioner to the long process and thousands of pages explaining current levels of observer coverage and efforts to improve these numbers. Thoughts are that this tension stems from leftover concern expressed about high halibut harvest levels in British Columbia, as compared to Southeast Alaska and the North Pacific United States.

Halibut Bycatch or Groundfish Management?

There’s no question that halibut caught by sportfishermen and the direct commercial fleet are worth more than halibut tossed over the side of a trawl vessel.  What is in question is when this issue is relevant.  For those of us who rely on a healthy halibut stock for our livelihood, the answer is always; for member of the groundfish fleet, the answer is not here, not now.

The Council is well into its process of creating an abundance based management (ABM) for halibut bycatch in the groundfish fleet.  In other words, a tool allowing bycatch to fluctuate based on the overall health of the halibut stock – if there are more fish, the groundfish fleet gets more bycatch; if there are fewer, bycatch goes down.  Figuring out how to do this seems to result in a roomful of people where less than a dozen understand the whole conversation.  Staff is analyzing over a dozen indices and how they would work together to accurately estimate abundance for bycatch rates, while meeting Council aims like protecting spawning stock and providing for the directed fishery.  It’s a heavy conversation considering that the groundfish fleet just reduced bycatch by 25%, to the lowest rates since we began measuring bycatch in the 1960s, at great expense.

At this meeting, the conversation continued to circle around whether ABM is a groundfish management tool or a tool to reduce bycatch.  Members and testifiers also reminded decision makers that any management tool must be careful to avoid creating an incentive to use all bycatch instead of creating an incentive to reduce it.  In sum, the groundfish fleet needs help, and this issue is headed down a long road full of conversations about the value of halibut and where priorities lie.