Trawl Groups Sponsor Experimental Fishery to Reduce Halibut Bycatch

For Immediate Release – September 11, 2000


The freezer-trawler Legacy is scheduled to field test a halibut excluder device in the Gulf of Alaska later this month. The commercial trawl fishery in the Gulf is presently closed, but the experimental fishing is authorized through an Exempted Fishing Permit issued by National Marine Fisheries Service. The vessel will fish for approximately ten days and is allowed to harvest up to 400 metric tons of groundfish.

The experiment is sponsored by two Seattle based trawl industry associations — Groundfish Forum and At-sea Processors Association (APA). Groundfish Forum, which represents nineteen “head and gut” freezer trawlers, has conducted similar experiments in the past. The September 2000 project marks the association’s fourth experimental fishery in as many years. The Legacy is a member vessel of Groundfish Forum. A member vessel of APA is slated to conduct similar testing in the Bering Sea next spring. Both associations will have a representative on board the Legacy during the experimental fishery.

The purpose of the experiment is to test how well a specially designed metal grate excludes halibut from the catch without causing significant loss of the target species, Pacific cod. Halibut is a prohibited species in the Alaska groundfish fisheries (meaning it cannot be retained when caught), and many trawl fisheries are constrained by limits placed on the amount of halibut that can be taken as bycatch. Groundfish Forum tested a similar halibut excluder grid for the flatfish fishery in a 1998 experiment. That design was very successful, and the grid is now used in many Alaskan trawl flatfish fisheries. Halibut and Pacific cod are much closer in size, however, and designing a grid that excludes just halibut from the catch is a greater challenge. Dr. Craig Rose of the National Marine Fisheries Service has worked closely with fishermen to develop the design that will be tested this fall.

The experiment comes at a time when Alaska trawl fisheries are in turmoil. On August 7 of this year Judge Thomas Zilly enjoined all trawling within Steller sea lion critical habitat, blocking access to important coastal fishing grounds. The injunction came at the request of Greenpeace, which is suing the National Marine Fisheries Service. Greenpeace alleges NMFS has not done enough to protect the endangered sea lions.

According to Tom Grimes, the captain of the Legacy, the loss of important fishing grounds may jeopardize the experiment. “We’re not likely to catch as much fish as we’d like,” he says, “but this experiment is important for future fisheries. We’ll just have to go out there and do our best.”

The Legacy will not be paid to do the experiment. Rather, the vessel is able to keep what is caught in the thirty tows required to do the experiment. The vessel’s crew of 30 will process cod, pollock, and other miscellaneous groundfish species. Halibut will be sorted and counted on deck and returned to the water as quickly as possible. The Legacy will carry a second NMFS-certified observer during the experiment.

For additional information, please contact John Gauvin (gauvin@seanet.com).

Information about At-sea Processors Association (APA)

The At-sea Processors Association (APA) is comprised of seven seafood companies that own and operate 19 U.S. flag catcher/processor vessels that harvest Alaska pollock, cod and other groundfish species in the Bering Sea ad also participate in the Pacific whiting fishery. APA members participate in two fish harvesting cooperatives. Cooperative members assess themselves to raise funds for marine research projects. APA has offices in Anchorage, Seattle, Juneau and Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

For more information about At-sea Processors Association, please contact Trevor McCabe at (907) 276-8252.