Pacific halibut groups call out NPFMC over 'inability' to reduce bycatch

'Serious' problems with Gulf of Alaska's Observer program is 'international embarrassment,' halibut association exec tells IntraFish

Reprinted from Intrafish -  April 20th, 2018 11:11 GMT  Updated April 20th, 2018 13:05 GMT

Two halibut organizations penned a letter last month urging the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) to take action and remedy Pacific halibut fisheries management.

Fishing Vessel Owners' Association (FVOA) President Per Odergaard and Deep Sea Fishermen's Union (DSFU) Executive Director James Johnson wrote to NPFMC Chairman Dan Hull asking for help lowering bycatch and urging the NPFMC to join their efforts t pressure policy change at the state and federal level.

"The Scientific and Statistical Committee, the Observer Committee and the Advisory Panel have all pointed out serious data quality problems with how the Council has supervised the Gulf of Alaska Observer program," said Odergaard and Johnson.

FVOA General Manager Robert Alverson told IntraFish the NPFMC failed to correct flaws in the observer program.

It's an international embarrassment," he said. Canadians have a 100 percent observer program, the Pacific Council 100 percent, Bering Sea 100 to 200 percent, but observer coverage in the Gulf of Alaska for non-pollock trawlers is 12%"

He said they're working with Washington state representatives to be more aggressive on this.

"We're trying to get that percentage up to 35 percent," Alverson told IntraFish. "The [NPFMC] has the authority to change or modify the observer program."

He added the council took remedial action regarding bycatch in 2015. 

"However, we didn't foresee poor halibut recruits in the years that followed," he said. "There are weak year classes beginning to come into the system."

FVOA and DSFU brought up the NPFMC's March 6 letter to the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC).

"At long last, you have clearly detailed the inability of the NPFMC to take practical action to reduce bycatch in the fishery," said Odergard and Johnson. "The letter's stated concern for socio-economic impacts on the trawl fishery is noteworthy, but does not tell the entire story."