Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bycatch News and Analysis-Comment

Bycatch News:
Klas Stolpe, of the Juneau Empire, reports in part, that "fishery managers are still discussing the best way to measure the impact of bycatch and what it means to other harvests in the Northwest Pacific."

"'The issue here is, as a result of research during past years' fisheries, we have realized that halibut are moving more than we had assumed they were,' IPHC ED Bruce Leaman said. ' That has meant that impacts of bycatch are now estimated to be more extensive...than we had previously thought. Over the last decade or so, we had been thinking that bycatch was primarily local in its effect but it is more extensive than that. So that tends to make bycatch in US waters have an impact on Canadian waters.'

"The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans provides observer data to the IPHC from Canadian waters. According to the IPHC, the Canadian observer program provides a more stable fishery with less variation in its bycatch rates. Canadian trawlers, for instance, are required to have 100 percent observer coverage on board.

"In the US, observer coverage depends upon vessel size. Vessels above 125 feet are required to have 100 percent coverage. Boats between 60 and 125 feet are required to have 30 percent coverage, and observers aren't required for vessels under 60 feet.

"'The Canadians have a much better system for bycatch control where there are individual bycatch caps for each of the trawlers that are working, for example, in the trawl fishery in BC,' Leaman said. 'Where as in the US it tends to be a global cap of all of that sector. In general it is still not an individual responsibility in the US.'

"The NPFMC would like to see a progress report at the IPHCs interim November meeting, but no firm timeline has been established to define new objectives.'

"'Right now it is a work project in front of the commission staff and working with some of the agencies in the US and Canada,' Leaman said. "Not a lot has changed in terms of the trawl fisheries, but different abundances of target species have an effect on how much bycatch there is.'"

Fisheries managers "are still discussing the best way to measure the impact of bycatch..." Discussions have been going on for decades over bycatch. Nothing happens. American managers and their political handlers have been so concerned about competition in world markets for fish that they have thrown all caution to the wind in order to harvest as much as possible, often without considering the value of the fish they catch or the destruction to the oceans that follows using trawlers as the primary harvesters.

Bruce Leaman's statements that 'halibut move more than we thought and that impacts of trawl fleet bycatch were primarily local' point up the blatant spin doctoring of his statements or his ignorance. When an entire area, the central Gulf of Alaska, is being hammered to pieces by unconstrained trawler bycatch of course it is going to affect other areas of the North Pacific Ocean. Mr. Leaman, this is called the 'eocsystem.' The implication is that halibut destruction is perfectly acceptable as long as it stays in the central GOA. This is prima facia mismanagement and an outrage. Mr. Leaman should apologise and resign. 'Bycatch in US waters has an impact on Canadian water,' indeed. So all that matters, are Canadian waters? This is completely short sighted, uninformed, and region centric.

In regard to observer coverage and data, it is well known that observers are overworked. Asked to provide far too much junk observation and data, they are frequently off deck, off task, and/or too busy to observe what is really going on. Estimates of 50% reliability of their observations is the most common figure kicked about in discussions with experienced trawler crew. As one reliable trawler crewman told me, 'You'd be surprised how easy it was to hide things from the observer.'

That the Canadians have a much better observer program maybe the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal record of disastrous mismanagement of Canadian fisheries in general. One hundred percent observer coverage and making individual Canadian trawlers responsible for individual bycatch caps are two things that the US should copy from their Olympic hockey champion neighbors, post haste.

But don't hold your breath. "No firm timeline has been established to define new objectives" on US trawler bycatch and halibut destruction. Nothing is going to change until this preventable resource waste and destruction captures the international media's attention, or gets scrutinized by the US and Canadian's as a violation of the International Pacific Halibut Treaty.

The final ill informed remark by Mr. Leaman, "Not a lot has changed in terms of the trawl fisheries, but different abundances of target species have an affect (sic) on how much bycatch there is," reflects his ignorance of the increases in trawler horsepower, new super 58s, hull sponsoning, net size, cod end capacity, and other known and yet uncomputed factors leading to trawlers' greater ability to catch larger breeder halibut by towing the net at higher speeds, holding larger deckloads, increasing the time halibut remain out of the water or under the pressure of tons of fish pressing upon them. This has resulted in millions of pounds of halibut wanton waste. Wake up, Mr. Leaman, the time of smoke and mirrors is ending. Fishery managers must move into a new era of honest concern for the long term health of the fisheries or resign and go to work for the trawlers or the processing industry and leave fishery management to a new and hopefully more informed and transparent group of managers who will answer to the fishermen and the public of the US and Canada for these precious resources that are currently being destroyed.

Are you listening in to this, Mr. Schwaab? Ms. Lubchenco?

Keep yer flippers wet.

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