Editorial: Regulators hold first joint meeting on halibut bycatch; herring updates

Brainstorming over halibut bycatch was the theme of a two-day workshop this week in Seattle.

Topping the discussions: the methods used to collect bycatch numbers and the accuracy of the data.

The meeting between the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is an unprecedented effort to work together to reduce the estimated 10 million pounds of halibut taken as bycatch and discarded in Alaska’s fisheries.

“As far as I know, this meeting represents a first ever joint effort by the two bodies to meet together to discuss current science and/or research,” said Duncan Fields of Kodiak, a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The NPFMC sets halibut bycatch limits in federal-water fisheries, which produce 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood landings.

The IPHC tracks and studies the stocks and sets annual catch limits for commercial halibut fisheries in the U.S. and Canada. It has been more than two decades since bycatch levels were soundly re-evaluated by the NPFMC; two years ago, the IPHC reconvened a task force to study how bycatch removals affect halibut stock assessments and, ultimately, fishery management.

Fields said he has “high hopes” that the joint meeting, “will be informative and further more co-operative public presentations.”

The North Pacific Council plans to reduce halibut bycatch limits in Gulf of Alaska fisheries at its June meeting in Kodiak.

Alaska seafood is tops

The seafood industry not only provides the most jobs in Alaska — more than oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism combined — seafood also is Alaska’s top export. State numbers show that Alaska’s total exports increased by more than 26 percent last year valued at $5.2 billion, the highest ever. Half of the value, $2.5 billion, came from seafood exports, a 35 percent increase over 2010.

Last year also marked the first year that China ranked first for Alaska exports with seafood also topping that list ($836 million). China was followed by Japan, South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, France, Thailand, Spain and Portugal. Europe accounted for more than 22 percent of Alaska seafood exports last year.

Other Alaska exports included mineral ores, which increased 31.7 percent to $1.8 billion; precious metals (primarily gold), were up 24.7 percent to $266.4 million. Forest products exports increased 1.9 percent to $119.3 million.

Energy exports decreased 7.3 percent to $387.7 million.

Herring watch

Big roe herring shortfalls at Southeast have boosted fishing and buying interest at Kodiak. The fishery began on April 15 and 25 to 35 boats are signed on compared to 17 last season, said James Jackson, a fishery manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. As many as seven major companies are buying the fish valued for its roe.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the large harvest that did not get taken down in Sitka,” Jackson said.

The Sitka herring fishery in late March produced less than half of its nearly 29,000-ton quota, and a small fishery at West Behm Canal was canceled all together. That puts Kodiak’s 5,355-ton herring harvest in a good spot for interested buyers, and hopes are high that the fish will fetch more than the disappointing $200 per ton last year.

Unlike other Alaska regions where herring fisheries can be over in a few short openers, Kodiak’s fishery can occur in up to 81 different sections around the island, and the fishery lasts through June.

“Kodiak is a big complicated fishery and it is very different,” Jackson said. “At Sitka and Togiak, those places have large spawning aggregates and they tend to come in usually all at once and you can catch the harvest limit really fast. At Kodiak there are so many different separate spawning aggregates, and they spawn at different times, sometimes in mid-April and sometimes in late June.”

Kodiak also is a “stop over” for boats heading to the state’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay. Alaska’s herring fisheries will continue along the westward coast all the way to Norton Sound. The statewide fisheries bring in more than $20 million to coastal communities.

Fish bills

United Fishermen of Alaska, the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group, is claiming “success” with the passing of several measures during the regular session of the state legislature.

They include bills that would increase commercial fishing loan limits, support entry of young fishermen into commercial fishing careers. Funding increases UFA also supported include: $9 million in general fund for Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute as a match to industry contributions; a $60,000 increase from the governor’s recommendation for Alaska Marine Safety Education Association trainings; and $489,000 for ADFG Sport Fishing Division Invasive Species response.

UFA-supported measures that did not pass include: Sea Otter Management Resolution (held in Senate Rules); labeling of farmed fish and genetically modified fish (Did not move from first committee referral, House Fisheries); prohibiting growing or cultivating genetically modified fish (was not heard in House Resources); R&D tax credits (held in Senate Finance Committee); crew data and statistics (held in House Finance); coastal management (heard but not passed in first committee, House Resources).

Also not passing was a bill on Bristol Bay large scale mines: “An Act requiring legislative approval before the issuance of an authorization, license, permit, or approval of a plan of operation for a large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation that could affect water in or flowing into or over the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve” (was not heard in first committee of referral, Senate Labor and Commerce).

Find a complete update on all fish bills at www.ufa-fish.org.


Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit alaskafishfactor.com for more information or contact [email protected].

04/26/2012 - 7:36am