As a commercial fisherman, I have concerns about the state of our oceans and fisheries. Clean water and healthy fish stocks – we all rely on them. I hope the next generation of fishermen that inherit what we (users, managers and decision makers) leave for them will be sustainable. The state of halibut stocks in the Gulf of Alaska is waving a red flag in our faces. For decades millions of these fish have been discarded, dead, back in the ocean as bycatch.
As second-generation halibut quota share holders, we have made significant investments in the fishery. The reduction of commercial catch over the last decade is intended to benefit the long-term health of the resource. We support sustainable management and accept this. Things change. There are no fixed rates in this industry.
However, the bycatch limits for halibut in the Gulf of Alaska have remained almost the same for nearly 25 years. Since 1989, trawl and hook and line (Pacific cod) fishermen discard over 5 million pounds of halibut bycatch annually. The immature fish caught in trawls haven’t had the opportunity to spawn. Is this sustainable?
Everyone in the commercial halibut and sport fisheries are making sacrifices. Change is part of doing business. Everyone participating needs to have some skin in the game. Everyone!
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will be meeting in Kodiak during the week of June 6 through 12 to discuss halibut bycatch and vote on reductions of 5, 10 or 15 percent in the Gulf. Consider this: If the current bycatch is reduced by 15 percent that means a 661,380 pounds reduction, leaving 3.7 million pounds for discarding instead of 4.4 million pounds. The fleet is responsible for halibut bycatch and can respond to this change — they must!
I encourage all Alaska residents to show their support for sport, commercial and subsistence halibut fishermen and the stocks by urging the council to pass a 15 percent reduction. Show up and testify! It’s beyond time for all sectors of the commercial fishing industry to do their part in conserving our halibut stocks.
Leigh Gorman Thomet