At issue is the amount of halibut trawlers and longliners are permitted to catch while pursuing other species. Since 1986, trawlers have been permitted 2,000 metric tons of halibut bycatch. The 300-metric ton longline bycatch limit was last revised in 1995.
Bycatch must be discarded, and halibut fishermen have protested the trawl allowance, since their catch limits have declined each year. Trawl groups say the bycatch allowance is necessary to allow them to pursue groundfish, which make up the majority of seafood processed in Kodiak plants.
“It’s a fairly contentious issue,” said Denby Lloyd, fisheries adviser for the Kodiak Island Borough and the city of Kodiak.
The fishery council is scheduled to begin an initial review of halibut proposals on Thursday, the second day of the gathering for the body that makes most Alaska-waters fisheries decisions.
Jeff Stephen, director of the United Fishermen’s Marketing Association, said attention is on halibut because this week’s meeting comes immediately after the International Pacific Halibut Commission voted to lower the North Pacific halibut quota by 18 percent.
“Coming right on the heels of this meeting, it’s going to be a hot issue,” he said. “Canadians are very concerned about what they see to be the lack of management action.”
The council may keep the bycatch limit the same or lower it by as much as 15 percent. A final decision could come as soon as June, when the council will meet in Kodiak. Lloyd and Stephen said the outcome of a halibut research workshop in April may prove critical to the outcome.
Another Kodiak-area topic receiving attention at this week’s meeting is a required modification to trawl gear. The modification, already used in the Bering Sea, would raise the gear off the seafloor, preventing crab from being caught in trawl nets.
As with the halibut proposal, the trawl modifications are only in the initial review stage. Final action would come no sooner than the council’s April meeting. Unlike the halibut proposal, the modifications are expected to stir little controversy.
“I think the trawlers are pretty well onboard with this,” Stephen said, “but I get surprised all the time.”
Two items are scheduled for final action at the meeting this week. The first, expected to be uncontroversial, is the creation of a community quota entity in Adak. A CQE is a local organization permitted to buy quota share in a fishery. That organization can then lease the share to local fishermen, allowing them to participate in a fishery close to their homes.
The other item up for final action is a set of revisions to economic data reporting in the Bering Sea crab fishery. Some crabbers have opposed the revisions, which require them to reveal more financial information to the government. Fisheries managers are supporting the move because it gives them more data to model the behavior of the fishery.
“It’s quite a large issue because of the imposition of the cost of requiring that data,” Stephen said. “It’s just one more thing you have to think about on the weekend.”
The 207th plenary session of the North Pacific Fishery Management council opens at 8 a.m. Wednesday. A live audio stream of the council meeting is available on the council’s website, http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc/.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at email@example.com.