As a commercial fisherman, I have great concerns about the state of our oceans and fisheries. Clean water and healthy fish stocks — I rely on them. They’re essential for running my family business. They’re essential for everyone. I love seafood and five times per week it’s the main course on my family’s table. I love fishing with my family, and it is my hope the next generation of fishermen that inherit the consequences of what we (users, managers and decision makers) leave behind for them will be clean and sustainable. However, the state of the halibut stocks in the Gulf of Alaska has been waving a big red flag in our faces. It is disheartening to know that for decades millions of these fish have been discarded, dead, back in the ocean as bycatch.
As second generation halibut quota share holders, we have made significant investments in the fishery and consider ourselves good stewards of the resource. Unfortunately, the population of halibut in the Gulf of Alaska has been dwindling in recent years; limiting the amount we can harvest annually. The reduction in the directed commercial catch of halibut over the last decade has been for the benefit of the long-term health of the resource, and we support sustainable management and accept this. We also accept that things change. There are no fixed quota rates in this industry.
What is frustrating is that the prohibited bycatch limits for halibut in the Gulf have remained almost the same for nearly 25 years. Since 1989, trawl and hook and line (Pacific Cod) fishermen have been able to discard as dead over 5 million pounds of halibut bycatch in the Gulf annually. That is an astounding allotment of fish to waste! And so many of those discarded are small fish that haven’t had the opportunity to spawn. This is flabbergasting to me.
The bycatch is divided as follows: 2,000 metric tons for the trawl fishery and 300 metric tons for the Pacific Cod hook and line fishery. Is this sustainable management? That is more than the yearly 4.4 million pounds of halibut harvested by Southeast and Southcentral sport fisheries combined.
In the last 10 years our halibut quota in 3A has dropped more than 50 percent and this year it took another 17 percent cut. Everyone in the commercial and charter halibut fisheries is making sacrifices.
Change is part of doing business. Often, politics can be socially and environmentally value free and this is so unfortunate. Conserving resources doesn’t have to have so many layers of complexity. Everyone participating in the taking of halibut needs to have some skin in the game. Everyone! There is no right way of doing the wrong thing.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will be meeting in Kodiak during the week of June 6 -12 to take final action on halibut bycatch limits in the Gulf of Alaska. They will be voting on whether to reduce the limits by 5, 10, or 15 percent. Consider this — if the current bycatch is reduced by 15 percent, that means a 661,380 pound reduction, leaving 3.7 million pounds for discarding instead of 4.4 million pounds. The fleet is responsible for halibut bycatch and can respond to this change; they must! While I believe 15 percent doesn’t give enough of a leg up in the conservation department, it is a start.
I encourage everyone to show their support for commercial, sport and subsistence halibut fishermen and the stocks by urging the Council to pass a 15 percent reduction; show up and testify to the Council during the meeting in Kodiak. It is beyond time for all sectors of the commercial fishing industry to do their part in conserving the halibut stocks.
• Thomet is a commercial fisherman and lives in Kodiak.