ANCHORAGE - A new environmental group has asked federal regulators to decrease the amount of catch wasted by the U.S. commercial fishing industry.
Oceana, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., said last week it might sue if its demands are not met.
"My hope is that there is not a lawsuit," said Jim Ayers, director of Oceana's North Pacific office and former chief of staff under Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles.
Oceana accused the National Marine Fisheries Service of failing to implement laws requiring reduction of bycatch in commercial fisheries. Bycatch is fish that is harvested by accident and then discarded, typically because it is the wrong species, size, gender or quality.
Worldwide, such waste totals about 44 billion pounds of fish each year. That's 25 percent of the total commercial catch, according to research cited by Oceana.
Oceana's concerns are outlined in a report, "Oceans At Risk: Wasted Catch and the Destruction of Ocean Life." The report was funded with money from the Pew, Rockefeller, Turner and other foundations.
Fishermen and federal fishery regulators said the report shortchanges progress in reducing waste, particularly in waters off Alaska.
"If these people spent some time in the fishery management process, they'd know that," Glenn Reed, president of the Seattle-based Pacific Seafood Processors Association, told the Anchorage Daily News.
In 1998, boats in the nation's largest fishery by weight - Bering Sea pollock - were required to keep and use almost all their catch, according to Sue Salveson, a commercial fisheries manager with NMFS in Juneau. That action, along with subsequent regulations, has dramatically reduced pollock discards from 63 million pounds in 1997 to about 2.2 million pounds last year.
Jim Gilmore, spokesman for a Seattle-based fleet of fishing ships, said that is a small amount of waste considering that the total Bering Sea pollock catch last year was about 3 billion pounds.
Alaska fishery managers also have developed rules to minimize bycatch in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, Salveson said. Fishing seasons are scheduled for times that result in less bycatch, and fishermen are kept out of many areas to avoid certain fish or crab and their breeding grounds.