Seattle bottom trawlers claim “progress” on gear changes to protect whales; will begin use next month

Bering Sea bottom trawlers call their way of fishing "revolutionary" and claim they have "almost entirely eliminated impacts on the seafloor and bottom-dwelling species."

by | April 12, 2024

Press release makes no mention of impacts on halibut, crab and other bottom dwellers

Image credit: International Pacific Halibut Commission

The Alaska Seafood Cooperative has made progress on gear modifications aimed for use in the Amendment 80 fleet in the Bering Sea. The project’s objective is to mitigate whale entanglements in deep-water flatfish gear, The Alaska Seafood Cooperative said in a release. 

Ten killer whales were caught incidentally as bycatch by Alaska groundfish trawling vessels in 2023, only one of which survived, according to NOAA Fisheries.

Research thus far has included testing possible net modifications in the world’s largest flume tank, located at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. 

“We are pleased with the progress so far and thank everyone involved for their dedication to getting this work done so quickly,” Alaska Seafood Science Project Manager John Gauvin said. “Now that we have a design we expect will provide deterrence over the entire net opening, we will need to test it in the fishery this summer to determine whether it’s successful or if we need to make further adjustments.” (LW note: John Gauvin has been talking about trawl gear tests in flume tanks since the 1980s.)

Amendment 80 vessels have agreed to use the new gear for fishing in the Bering Sea deep-water flatfish fishery beginning in May 2024. //

Bottom trawlers give themselves a glowing report!

Formed in 2008, the Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC), formerly the Best Use Cooperative, is a group of “catcher processor” fishing companies working to improve the management of Bering Sea flatfish and other non-pollock groundfish fisheries. Working with federal scientists, the AKSC has almost entirely eliminated its impact on the seafloor and bottom-dwelling marine species while still catching fish that feeds millions of people every year. This revolution in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl fisheries has been achieved by studying the behaviors of fish and modifying both our fishing practices and our gear to avoid the fish we don’t want to catch.  These changes have allowed us to reduce our seafloor contact by over 90%.

AKSC home page
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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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