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Trawlers defeat relief for halibut fishermen

December 19th, 2014 | By Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

An emergency measure to help northern Bering Sea halibut fishermen was defeated at last week's North Pacific Fishery Management Council, in a vote split along regional lines with all the Alaska representatives supporting the measure, which failed by a 5-5 tie vote.

The measure would have transferred halibut bycatch quotas from pollock trawlers to hook-and-line halibut fishermen. It was vigorously opposed by representatives of pollock factory trawlers and onshore catcher boats.

Voting for the bycatch transfer were Duncan Fields of Kodiak, Dave Long of Wasilla, Dan Hull of Anchorage , and Simon Kinneen of Nome, along with Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Sam Cotten.

"I can't imagine something that looks more like an emergency," said Kinneen.

Washington state representatives Bill Tweit, Craig Cross, John Hendershedt were opposed, as was Roy Hyder of Oregon, and National Marine Fisheries Service representative Glenn Merrill all opposed the emergency move to help halibut areas 4CDE.

The emergency measure was opposed by the At-sea Processors Association, United Catcher Boats, and other industry groups.

The failed emergency measure was part of the voting to set quotas for Bering Sea groundfish species, including the billion dollar pollock fishery. Trawlers feared that a reduction in halibut bycatch limits for trawlers could shut them down early, leaving their fish in the water.

But halibut fishermen complain that the trawlers are allowed to waste more halibut as bycatch than they'll be allowed to catch for the high-value market, a policy called "unacceptable" by St. Paul mayor Simeon Swetzof.

Pribilof Islands halibut fishermen are expecting a big quota cut next year, when the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets next month in Vancouver, British Columbia, according to Swetzof.

The tentative quota of 73,000 pounds was announced this month, down from the current year's 253,000 pounds in community development quota for the Central Bering Sea Fisherman's Association, Swetzof. The proposed cut is "devastating," he said, an amount so small, he said, that he wondered if it would be worthwhile for Trident Seafoods to bother buying the big flatfish in St. Paul. He said that slashed halibut quotas represent an "existential threat" to his community.

The fish council was repeatedly advised to work more closely with the halibut commission, and send members to the upcoming meetings in Canada.

Lenny Herzog, of Homer, representing Bering Sea halibut fishermen, said the trawl industry could help save the halibut sector from "impending doom" with cash payments to offset massive quota cuts, since the trawlers didn't want to lose any of their own quota by surrendering halibut bycatch allowances. Money paid to the small halibut boats, he said, "could stop some of the pain."

The executive director of the Halibut Association of North America, Peggy Parker, of Deming., Wash., representing halibut processing companies complained that too much halibut is caught by trawlers."

"Our U.S. and Canadian members process approximately 80 percent of the halibut from North America's west coast. Many of our members also process pollock, P-cod, and Bering Sea flatfish, so

issues regarding halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea never present simple solutions," she said.

"Indeed, long term members of HANA — and most of our members have been around for the 50 years we've been in business — their positions on bycatch have been tempered by the understanding that prosecuting a billion dollar groundfish fishery in the Bering Sea does not come without a cost," Parker said.

"But this cost — the increasing bycatch of halibut in Area 4CDE — is not only becoming too dear, threatening a closure of a massive geographical area, but also becoming clear that it is assigned in an unsustainable way," she testified.

Jim Paulin can be reached at jpaulin@reportalaska.com.

 

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