Alaska Flatfish Catchers Take Hit After NPFMC Bycatch Vote

By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource.com – June 10, 2015


Flatfish catcher-processors are worried about the impact on their business and jobs in the sector after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to reduce halibut bycatch by 25 percent.

After hearing emotional public testimony – on both sides of the issue – over a day-and-a half, the council voted 6 to 3 to reduce bycatch by 25 percent in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands in 2016. NPFMC, which met from 1 to 9 June in Sitka, Alaska, originally was considering up to a to a 60 percent bycatch reduction.

“We are not happy. This is a huge, huge cut,” Chris Woodley, executive director of the Groundfish Forum in Seattle, Wash., told SeafoodSource. “We have already taken a 20 percent cut in the last seven years and now this is a 25 percent reduction.”

The Groundfish Forum estimates USD 30 million (EUR 26.6 million) to USD 50 million (EUR 44.3 million) in losses to catchers-processors of Pacific cod, sole, Atka mackerel and other flatfish because of the reduction.

“We are going to lose a lot of jobs in our sector because of this. The [impact] from a 25 percent reduction will be pretty significant,” said Dennis Moran, president of Fishermen’s Finest in Seattle, Wash. He believes the council did not consider the loss of jobs – particularly minority jobs – when making its decision.

“There is a disproportionate negative effect on the minority groups [in the industry],” Moran said. For example, Fishermen’s Finest employs 40 percent minorities and is a female-owned business. “Our processors make between USD 50,000 and USD 90,000 a year. A lot can’t get jobs making that anywhere else.”

Several fishing vessel owners testified at the NPFMC meeting that a 25 percent cut “was right at their threshold for tying up boats,” Woodley said. “Vessel owners will have to make some really hard decisions [next year].”

On the other side of the issue, halibut fishermen urged the council to adopt a higher reduction in bycatch numbers. “The halibut fishermen wanted a much larger reduction and we wanted far lower than we got,” Woodley said.

Instead of a reduction in halibut bycatch, the NPFMC should consider reducing the allowable halibut catch size, Moran and Woodley said.

“Over the last 10 years, the biomass of halibut in the Bering Sea has doubled in terms of tons, but the share of halibut above 32 inches has gone down. Because the halibut fishermen get their quota assigned based on the subset greater than 32 inches, their share has gone down, but not because of what we have caught,” Moran said. “The solution is to lower the size of the halibut minimum.”