Bycatch threatens small communities

I first began commercial fishing for halibut along the Aleutian Chain and Bering Sea in 2002. The Aleutian Islands are an incredibly wild and beautiful place to make a living.  The halibut we often saw were averaging 100 pounds and we had several trips of 30,000 to 40,000 pounds caught in just a few days and long hard working nights.  The money was good and the work was some of the most difficult and rewarding I have ever done.  

During the past 12 years we have seen the halibut catch decrease dramatically in number and size. The International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC, has generally done a great job of setting sustainable harvest quotas and protecting the resource. However, it became apparent that other events were affecting the pacific halibut stocks. Most of us in the longline fishery felt that the most likely culprit was the trawl fishery, taking far too high a percentage of halibut as bycatch.  

Now, Bering Sea halibut fisheries are in danger of being reduced to such a low level that many small boat operations cannot make it profitable to go fishing. Small communities are often very vulnerable to fishing quota reduction and closures.  With the IPHC looking to set the quotas for the Bering Sea halibut (Areas 4CDE) at a mere 370,000 pounds, which have already seen a 69 percent decrease, these fisheries are in dire peril. Meanwhile the other directed ground fish fisheries (pollock, Pacific cod, rockfish, yellowfin sole) are allocated 7 million pounds as bycatch. This is not an adequate division of the resource nor is it fair to smaller boat operators.  

As a decade long user of the Pacific halibut resource, I urgently request an immediate reduction in the allowable bycatch of these big, beautiful fish to no less than 50 percent. It is the best thing we can do for our small Alaska communities and for our precious, renewable, and wild halibut fish stocks.

Curtis Jackson