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2015 Halibut bycatch limit significantly reduced in Bering Sea

Associated Press, June 8, 2015

JUNEAU — The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is asking pollock and cod trawlers in the Bering Sea to cut halibut bycatch by a fourth.

Sunday afternoon’s 6-3 vote didn’t give halibut fisherman the 41-percent reduction they wanted and frustrated trawlers targeting other fish who say they’ve voluntarily put measures in place to avoid bycatch, the Juneau Empire reported [1].

Two council members recused themselves from the vote because of their jobs in the fishing industry.

The National Marine Fisheries Service says halibut bycatch makes up about 3.24 percent of the total amount of fish caught in Alaska’s largest segment for pollock and cod trawlers. The area, called the Amendment 80 fleet, is where the reduction will be enforced.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission estimates 93 percent of halibut caught in the Bering Sea will be bycatch, up from 70 percent in 2014.

Bycatch limits haven’t kept pace with recent catch reductions for halibut fisherman. They testified that reducing the amount of halibut that can be unintentionally caught in the Bering Sea to 41 percent will help them meet minimum requirements to keep fleets afloat.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Sam Cotton suggested the cap be reduced to 33 percent from the 45 percent suggested by the council’s advisory panel.

Council vice chairman Bill Tweit suggested an amendment that brought the figure to 25 percent.

“I don’t want anybody to leave this meeting thinking this is a step backward,” he said, and was met with shouts from the audience.