Monday, December 13, 2010

NPFMC Considers Chinook Bycatch Options and Peeks at Halibut PSC

In the meeting that is currently underway in Anchorage, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has voted to move expeditiously to control Chinook bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska.  Chair Eric Olson framed the crux of the problem as he compared bycatch rates of Chinook in the Bering Sea to those in the GOA, where they are "many orders of magnitude higher."

Council voted to, among other things, to have staff report on a suite of regulatory options to include:
  • full retention of salmon by draggers so a true accounting becomes possible
  • hard caps on Chinook bycatch,
  • observer coverage on Super 8s (under 60 ft vessels)
  • mandatory salmon bycatch control cooperatives
It was clear in testimony that Chinook populations are in trouble and trawler bycatch is egregious.  The same old apologists dragged their feet and attempted to slow action on Chinook, but they did not come out and block Council action.  Final motion passed without opposition. Cora Campbell made the motion.

Groundfish report:

Interestingly, Duncan Fields was the only member of the NPFMC who objected to the extremely high rates of halibut PSC allowed in the GOA groundfish specifications for this next year.  Although it sometimes appears the Council is responsive to the resource, only money moves the majority.  With halibut collapsing, Cora Campbell voted with all others on the Council to approve GOA groundfish specs including 2000 metric tons of halibut waste.  Only Fields stood firm against this.

Speaking of halibut:

Bob Krueger, president of the Whitefish Trawlers Association, in his testimony, blames halibut fishermen and the IPHC for the draggers waste of 4.4 million pounds of halibut.  Pretzel logic?  He also stated that draggers kill mostly 'ping pong paddle' size halibut, which are too weak to out swim the trawls, and not commercially valuable fish anyway.  Go figure.  Like killing off the nurseries is not as bad as killing off the adults?  Destroying fish before they reach spawning age is not a sound idea, Bob.   If they are only one pounders, we calculate that the trawlers are really wasting at least ten times that much incredible 44 million pounds of 32 inch halibut, if they were to mature to minimum legal size!

"Agenda Item D-1(b) GOA Halibut PSC Limits
Council Motion
In recent years, the directed halibut catch limits in the GOA regulatory areas 2C, 3A and 3B have declined steadily, and the recommended catch limits for 2011 are almost 30% lower than in 2010. Growth rates of halibut remain very low and size at age has been declining; much of the total biomass is made up of smaller fish that are more vulnerable than larger fish to trawl gear. In addition, evidence of west to east migration of halibut within a coast wide stock may have implications for the impacts of halibut bycatch on stock assessment, and directed fishing opportunities. These factors raise concerns about the current halibut PSC limits in the GOA, and the effect this bycatch has on the directed fishing opportunities, as well as the productivity of the stock.
At this time the Council has not selected a specific process for considering changes to the GOA halibut PSC limits. Although the Council believes that an evaluation of the current halibut PSC limits is warranted, additional information about the condition of halibut stocks, the effects of bycatch reduction, and other fishery factors is necessary. Therefore, the Council directs staff to provide information on the following topics:
1. The effect of reducing bycatch limits in the GOA on the exploitable biomass available to the directed fisheries, over an appropriate time period; this includes the effects of migration on downstream users. (i.e. what is the effect of a 100mt reduction in bycatch over a 5 year period?).
2. The recent changes in IPHC stock assessment methods, harvest policies, and catch limit setting on directed halibut fisheries.
3. Changes to Federal fishery management programs and halibut PSC apportionments that begin in 2012 that are relevant to the use of halibut PSC.
4. Possible causes of low growth rates and the effects on future exploitable biomass and spawning biomass.
The Council further requests the IPHC to provide the appropriate scientific expertise and information to assist the Council."

At first blush, we thought the Council had made progress on these two issues of wanton waste of fisheries resources, but in retrospect, this is a weak and ineffectual response.  The Council works at glacial speed, so interested parties need to keep the pressure up for at least two more meetings before we might see any progress on Chinook and halibut prohibited species catch and the resultant damage to these important resources that affect so many peoples lives.  Uncle Ted used to say this was the best fisheries council in the USA.  So sad.  Please call your representative, your senator, your governor, whomever you determine can give feedback to the council about the horrible waste that is going on in the gulf to support these few draggers at the expense of the rest of us.

In any case, keep yer flippers wet.


Anonymous said...

Those "ping pong paddle" size halibut are soon to be commercially viable. They have survived to a size where they are subject to little natural predation. The draggers are their biggest predator.

As Wiglaf points out, the idiot from the rebadged AK draggers Assoc is confessing that their bycatch, measured in tons, is actually many times worse.

What is the value of all those halibut, salmon, crab and don't forget all the wasted small cod and pollock to all fishermen, processing workers and everyone who depends on local landing tax revenue?

Back in '97 the Canucks showed the NPFMC how to drastically reduce bycatch AND catch all your trawl allowable catches. The NPFMC wasn't and isn't interested.

Wiglaf said...

Exactly! There is just too much unaccounted for waste here, collateral damage to targeted species, as you point out, by killing off small fish and either discarding them at sea, (sorting belts are now on all the draggers), or grinding them at Kodiak's Biodry.