People talk about halibut taken as bycatch in the Bering Sea in terms of poundage but the problem goes far deeper than that. Those millions of pounds don’t account for the baby halibut scooped up from the ocean bottom.
The removals of those little halibut literally affect the halibut stock thousands of miles away.
An opinion piece by Eric Velsko and Linda Behnken point out that tiny, larval halibut float west with the current and settle to the bottom of the nursery grounds of the Bering Sea.
Behnken is a former, longtime member of both the North Pacific Council, which sets bycatch levels, and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which oversees the halibut resource and sets annual catch limits.
Behnken and Velsko point out that halibut are a long lived, migratory fish and as they grow, they swim from the Bering Sea back to the Gulf of Alaska to Southeast Alaska, downstream to British Columbia, and all the way to California.
That means that over 3,000 commercial halibut fishermen, 955 halibut charter operators, several thousand halibut sport fishermen and over 4,000 subsistence harvesters all are affected by halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea.
The allowed bycatch of over 7 million pounds, comes off the top of all other users.
The same upside down standard applies to bycatch of Chinook and chum salmon, herring, crab and sablefish.
The writers say Alaska needs a deep shift that moves away from protecting optimum yields in the industrial fisheries towards optimizing the health of fishery resources and communities.
And in a case of the fox guarding the hen house: unlike the Alaska Board of Fisheries, where members are conflicted out if they have any involvement with management issues being discussed, five of the seven appointed North Pacific Council members are allowed to be directly involved financially in the fisheries they help manage.