Kodiak Daily Mirror: Recap of bycatch utilization meeting; focus on halibut

Selling halibut bycatch for any purpose raises more questions than answers.

by | March 13, 2024

Filed Under Bycatch | Halibut | Management | Markets | Trawl

Most agreed that not taking halibut as bycatch is the best ‘utilization’

Advisory committee ends public comment on bycatch halibut sales

By Steve Williams/Kodiak Daily Mirror
March 13, 2024
It was all cons and no pros regarding the sale of bycatch halibut by trawlers during an Alaska Bycatch Advisory Council Tuesday. The Council’s Bycatch Utilization Subcommittee met to continue discussing better managing halibut caught by trawlers during the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea fisheries. 

Subcommittee member Linda Kozak said Tuesday’s meeting was strictly for gathering information leading up to a formal report to the whole advisory council on April 16. She noted that international, federal or state fisheries managers have no proposal to allow the selling of bycatch halibut. 

“There are no current proposals on this, nothing from the North Pacific Council, we’re not recommending anything, and no proposals from the State of Alaska to allow sale of bycatch halibut. The task of this subcommittee was to look at the issues and I hope that clarifies any potential confusion that might be there. I just want the public to know that there is no current proposal at this time,” Kozak said.  

Those who testified Tuesday want to keep it that way. Homer processor Kiril Basargin was one.

“As advocates for sustainable fishing practices. We strongly oppose allowing the sale of halibut bycatch from trawl fishing. There would be devastating consequences for the halibut population, the ecosystem, the livelihoods of fishing communities. We have seen first-hand the destruction impact of trawl fishing on the ocean floor and the non-target species that are caught and discarded. Allowing the sale of halibut bycatch will only incentivize more of this harmful practice, further depleting the halibut population, putting the future of our fishery at risk,” Basargin said.

Participants came up with a variety of bycatch utilization ideas. 

Kenai fisherman Chuck Combs said allowing the sale of bycatch halibut would incentivize more effort in areas with lots of halibut. Combs recommended saving and donating bycatch.

“For research purposes such as size and age research. You would take bycatch and donate it to elders, donate it to school children, or you use it in schools for anatomical programs or biological programs, just to show them about some of the resources their people are harvesting and utilizing,” Combs said. 

Seldovia fisherman Josh Wisniewski said simply throwing all bycatch — dead or alive — back in could be considered utilization. 

“Contributing them back to the ecosystem is a form of utilization,” Wisniewski said.

Western Alaska lodge owner Blair Hickson: “I don’t think it’s wise to incentivize bycatch; it will just become a fishery in its own right. But what could be a potential is that all the bycatch fish be surrendered to an organization, the State of Alaska or what have you, and then it could be sold to fund observers or put into research, could be a better use.”

Pelican — a fishing village in Southeast Alaska — Mayor Patricia Phillips noted that allowing bycatch sales of halibut would skew the market and work against the individual fishing quota system. 

“The reason the IFQ system is in place is that it makes for a fully-utilized resource,” Phillips said. “By allowing the sale of bycatch-caught halibut, you’ll create more volatility in a market that’s already volatile.”

Kodiak fisherman Patrick O’Donnell said selling bycatch raises multiple problems. 

“In the non-pelagic trawl fishery you’re going to go from 62 to 67 mortality of bycatch species to 100 percent. Then you got to look at the fish plants, will they utilize the bycatch? Or will it end up going to fishmeal? Not a lot of the plants are multi-species plants. They work one product at a time … also if we are going to go down this road we need to consider all fisheries, all bycatch,” O’Donnell said.

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Executive Director Jamie Goen encouraged the subcommittee to consider bycatch utilization issues in three parts. 

“The top goal is to reduce bycatch, and we really need to create strong incentives to reduce that bycatch. Second, is returning to the water those species that have high survival rates, return as quickly as possible. And then for species with low survival rates, then you can look at donation or research. But there should not be just a straight sale of those species. That creates the wrong incentive,” Goen said. 

Alaska Groundfish Data Bank Assistant Director Chelsea Radell spoke to the market constraints that make bycatch sales a burden. 

“Halibut live when you put them back carefully,” Radell said. “That should always be the first goal. (Selling bycatch halibut) doesn’t benefit the stock, it doesn’t benefit anyone.” 

She noted that halibut caught in bottom trawls are usually small and that selling them will just put too much small halibut on the market. “The market is already struggling enough.” 

Tuesday’s meeting was the final one for the Council’s Bycatch Utilization Subcommittee. Public comments will be included in a report to the Alaska Bycatch Advisory Council. The report will be for informational use, be available to the public and will not include a recommendation for or against the sale of bycaught halibut. The April 16 Alaska Bycatch Advisory Council meeting will be a Zoom meeting starting at 9 a.m.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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