Trawlers Avoiding By-Catch “Hot Spots”

By FNI Staff, Fishing News International – February 1998, Vol. 37 No. 2

The Sea State — a voluntary by-catch reduction program — is claimed to have cut by-catch rates in US North Pacific fisheries.

Bycatches of banned species such as halibut and crab are closely regulated in North Pacific fisheries.

Every year flatfish and cod fisheries are shut early because fishermen have caught the total or “cap” by-catch allotted to that fishery.

Halibut and crab swim on the bottom with flatfish so gear innovations are only a partial solution to by-catches.

The industry’s ability to implement avoidance of areas with higher incidence of crab and halibut — so called bycatch “hot spots” — was once rather limited.

Fishermen only had access to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) observer data collected on their vessels and this was often available only weeks later.  Now the flatfish industry claims to have remedied that situation with Sea State.

To get around these problems, Groundfish Forum members have voluntarily contracted with Sea State.

The Groundfish Forum represents about 14 heading and gutting companies and their 20 freezer trawlers range from 100 to over 200 feet.

Sea State, an independent contractor, receives NMFS data via satellite from participating vessels.  The data is then used to generate charts that are transmitted back to vessels.

These charts indicate areas where bycatch is high and information is updated every 24 hours.

Sea State works on a data release agreement between the industry and NMFS.  In addition, Sea State provides each vessel with a list of vessels and their by-catch rates.

This creates strong peer pressure which acts as an incentive to reduce by-catches.

The Sea State program works as follows:  observers sample hauls and estimate catch and by-catch.

Then each vessel faxes its observer data to Sea State which checks the data and performs statistical extrapolations to factor in any hauls that were not sampled.

Position-specific data for each vessel is used to create a chart of vessel-specific by-catch rates that is faxed to participating vessels within 24 hours.

Vessels move away from high by-catch areas and exert peer pressure on any vessel that is reluctant to move.

High target catch rates must be sacrificed to keep by-catch rates low, admits Sea State.