Trawlers give new meaning to “getting whaled”

NOAA says it's "unclear" about lethal takes of orcas by trawlers. "No comment."

by | August 31, 2023

Discarded halibut by trawlers attracts “feeding frenzy” for orcas

Pot gear instead of longline gear has been used in the Bering Sea to protect sablefish (black cod) catches from killer whales (orcas) since 2008.  Several analyses showed that when killer whales were present during longline surveys, 54 to 72% of the sablefish had been stripped from hooks by the whales.  

“Getting whaled” was so pervasive that fishery managers allowed the use of pot gear in the Gulf of Alaska starting in 2017.

“The whale predation has just been so horrible. The last couple years, I tried to do it with hooks. And it just got to the point to where we left tens of thousands of pounds of black cod unharvested, because we were going backwards feeding the whales. You can spread your strings 10 miles apart, and you might get one or two skates up and they find you. And then they pretty much strip you blind,” said longtime Kodiak skipper” Frank Miles at the time.

Photo credit: Hakai Magazine

Halibut bycatch is new source of easy whale pickin’s

Now, the whales have turned to a new source of easy pickin’s – bycatch that by law is required to be tossed overboard.

Unconfirmed reports are circulating that deck sorting of halibut by the Seattle-based Amendment 80 bottom trawl fleet in the Bering Sea has turned into such a feeding frenzy that over 20 orcas have been caught as bycatch so far this year.

Credit: Alaska Bycatch Tracker

Here is NOAA’s response:

NOAA boasts that they can account accurately for every fish taken by the big trawlers because they have “100% observer coverage.” But when it comes to captured whales, the information is “unclear” and NOAA says “no comment.”

Here is a link to another NOAA comment from 2021 confirming that orcas were taken as bycatch.

19 bottom trawlers comprise the Seattle-based A80 fleet, shown here at Dutch Harbor.

“Remember, individuals and businesses engaged in whale watching and ecotourism in AK have been fined thousands and tens of thousands of dollars in recent years for “getting too close” to whales on whale watching vessels, paddleboards, etc. But what about this?”

david bayes, homer-based charter operator
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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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