Commerce secretary approves halibut bycatch plan

The Secretary of Commerce has approved a fishery management plan amendment to reduce halibut bycatch in four sectors of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries. NOAA Fisheries anticipates the amendment will reduce the actual amount of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands by approximately 361 metric tons compared to 2014. It may also provide additional harvest opportunities in the directed commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence halibut fisheries.

In recent years, the International Pacific Halibut Commission — the joint U.S.-Canadian body charged with management of Pacific halibut — has determined that the exploitable biomass of halibut has declined, particularly in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. This decline has resulted in reductions to the catch limits for the directed commercial halibut fishery in Area 4, in particular Area 4 CDE in the eastern and northern Bering Sea.

Groundfish fisheries — which seek to catch species like pollock and yellowfin sole — regularly encounter halibut as bycatch during their fishing operations.

In response to declining commercial catch limits for the directed commercial halibut fishery, in June 2015, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended reducing halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries. The council’s recommendation was Amendment 111 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

Amendment 111 reduces the overall Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limit by 21 percent to 3,515 metric tons (mt). The PSC limits are reduced by specific amounts for the following groundfish sectors:

• Amendment 80 sector by 25% to 1,745 mt;

• BSAI trawl limited access sector by 15% to 745 mt;

• BSAI non-trawl sector by 15% to 710 mt; and

• Community Development Quota (CDQ) Program (CDQ sector) by 20% to 315 mt.

The Secretary approved Amendment 111 after determining that it is consistent with the national standards in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

NOAA Fisheries will publish a final rule for the measure this spring, which will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. For more information, visit NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional website: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/

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