Halibut has been an important part of my 35 years of Alaska experience. From longlining to charter fishing, and finally now as a personal use fisherman, halibut is a staple for my entire family. Those of us that depend on the Gulf of Alaska for our halibut must realize that the Bering Sea is a nursery ground that feeds the broad range of Pacific halibut. I strongly support conservation of this very important resource. For the following reasons, I would support a 50 percent reduction of halibut bycatch, or prohibited species catch, (PSC) in the Bering Sea.
The Bering Sea directed halibut fishery is in a state of crisis. For the 2015 season, IPHC proposes a reduction of the catch limits in Area 4CDE by a whopping 71 percent. How many of us could weather such a cut?
In the meantime, trawl bycatch caps in the Bering Sea remain unchanged, and millions of pounds larger than the directed fishery quota. The truly sad thing about all of this is that more than 65 percent of the halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea is caused by trawlers targeting two species: yellowfin sole and rock sole. How many Alaskans have ever eaten either? My suggestion would be to severely restrict these two fisheries until they can prove they can fish cleanly. I suspect an area closure could effectively accomplish the 50 percent reduction we support.
The state of Alaska has requested that there be an emergency regulation passed by National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce by 33 percent the halibut PSC in the Bering Sea. This would be a first good immediate measure to protect halibut.
More important than that would be beginning the process of analysis at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to permanently protect the Bering Sea from trawl halibut bycatch. Magnuson-Stevens Act National Standard 9 requires that bycatch be reduced. Standard 8 requires the council to provide for the sustained participation of fishery-dependent communities. The crisis in the Bering Sea demands action under these federal regulations.
As small boat fishermen and the communities they live in suffer from slashed quotas and diminishing returns, the trawl industry continues business as usual. The pain needs to be felt by everyone if we are to preserve this very important resource.