Groundfish Forum calls new regulation “politically motivated” and an “unlawful allocation of fishing privileges.”
By Amanda Buckle/SeafoodNews.com
December 21, 2023
This week the Groundfish Forum filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over a new halibut bycatch rule that was introduced in November. The suit was filed on December 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska against NMFS, NOAA, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and NOAA Assistant Administrator Janet Coit.
NMFS issued a file rule to implement Amendment 123 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area on November 24. According to the documents, the halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector would be determined annually.
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“The halibut PSC limits range from 1,745 mt when abundance is characterized as ‘high’ for the IPHC index, down to 1,134 mt (35 percent reduction) when abundance is characterized as ‘very low’ for the IPHC index,” the final rule reads.
NOAA wrote in the Federal Register summary that the final rule was “necessary to comply with the obligation in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act that Fishery Management Plans minimize bycatch to the extent practicable.” They further added that they expect halibut mortality to be minimized as a result of the final rule, and potentially result in additional harvest opportunities for the commercial halibut fishery.
The Groundfish Forum represents five member companies who operate 19 trawl vessels that catch and process a range of Alaska groundfish species – one, of course, being halibut. The industry group has been collaborating with NOAA for years on gear modifications to protect halibut. Now they say that this new rule is “politically motivated” and is an “unlawful allocation of fishing privileges.” Further, they say that the final rule will “force the Amendment 80 fleet to reduce its fishing for target species, which will have immediate and drastic economic consequences.”