Pollock fleet sees quota raised

  • Sunday, December 13, 2015 11:02pm
  • News

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council raised pollock quota for 2016, but only by half the requested amount, locked in by the two million metric ton cap for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fishery.

The 2016 pollock limit for the Eastern Bering Sea is 1.34 million metric tons, a 30,000 metric ton increase from the 2015 limit but less than half the 65,000 metric ton increase the Advisory Panel recommended and the pollock biomass could’ve handled.

Groundfish — which includes pollock, Pacific cod, and flatfish — is capped at two million metric tons per year. Any increase in one species’ total allowable catch, or TAC, shaves the same amount from one or several others.

Brent Paine, executive director of pollock-heavy United Catcher Boats, said he was disappointed not to get the full 65,000 metric tons increase, but understood the council’s inability to go beyond its boundaries.

“It was just the 2 million ton cap,” Paine said. “You just have to balance the user groups. But (30,000 tons) is better than nothing.”

Pacific cod, the second most voluminous species in the groundfish fishery, took a only a scant 1,320 metric ton cut, from 240,000 in 2015 to 238,680 in 2016, despite the cod fleet having harvested almost 30,000 metric tons less than allowed in 2015.

To round up the extra pollock tonnage, the council cut flatfish quotas. Flatfish, particularly yellowfin sole, arrowtooth flounder, and rock sole, are the main species whose harvests result in halibut bycatch.

Arrowtooth flounder took an 8,000 metric ton cut, from 22,000 metric tons in 2015 to 14,000 metric tons in 2016.

Northern rock sole dropped 12,150 metric tons from last year, from 69,250 in 2016 to 57,100 metric tons in 2016.

Yellowfin sole took a 5,000 metric ton cut, from 149,000 metric tons in 2015 to 144,000 metric tons in 2016. Flathead sole lost 3,150 metric tons, from 24,250 metric tons to 21,000 metric tons.

Flatfish are mainly pursued by the Seattle-based Amendment 80 fleet, all vessels of which are represented by industry group Groundfish Forum.

“It’s a challenge when you have levels of abundance and a 2 million metric ton cap,” said Groundfish Forum Executive Director Chris Woodley. “It’s a very big cut to our sector.”

The council could have taken some of the needed tonnage from the cod fleet, who only harvested 218,000 metric tons of a 240,000 metric ton quota in 2015 and may have had room to spare. Flatfish stakeholders said the split could have been fairer.

“Flatfish and cod didn’t get fully harvested last year, and this year’s cuts came from flatfish,” said Woodley. “We’d like to see more equity there.”

Woodley said he recognizes the council’s flatfish cuts were halibut-related.

The council agenda has revolved around halibut bycatch to some degree since late 2014. Halibut biomass is dropping, causing a disconnect between the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s directed halibut quotas, which vary with biomass, and the North Pacific council’s halibut bycatch limits, which are stationary. Halibut fishermen get less and less of the shrinking halibut pie.

The council’s Advisory Panel had recommended that the council add a full 65,000 metric tons to the pollock limit in part because the species could use a pressure valve. Pollock biomass in the Bering Sea ballooned to an estimated 11 million metric tons in 2016.

Halibut protection factored into considerations, though not as far as some advocates believed was necessary. The council avoided installing a provision that would tie halibut bycatch directly into the TAC-setting process, an idea pressed by the Advisory Panel through Jeff Kauffman.

Kauffman is the vice president of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the recent appointee to a commissioner seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

The recommendation would have required groundfish TACs to be determined “taking into consideration species bycatch rates” specifically related to halibut and halibut fisheries.

Kauffman’s proposal even included economic analysis developed by Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association economist Ray Melovidov, which Kauffman intended to be used as a tool for industry to see how such halibut-centric TAC-setting would look. The council did not adopt the recommendation.

“I think we do take into account bycatch but not just of halibut,” said member Craig Cross, who authored and introduced the final harvest allocations. “I would like to keep the TAC-setting with what we’ve always done, which is take into account not only halibut, but crab, and herring. Halibut is the one that’s most critical now, but a year from now it might be crab. Who knows what it will be down the line.”

Council member Duncan Fields introduced a similar motion that specified bycatch considerations for all species in the TAC-setting process.

Taking bycatch into consideration is already part of the fishery management plans, and Fields’ motion calls for no specific calculations. Rather, Fields believes the motion provides makes the bycatch considerations explicit and public.

The motion passed, but only after Cross’ allocations had been unanimously approved. The council agreed with the publicity angle.

“I think it’s extremely important we adopt this as a policy so that people know we’re serious about bycatch,” said Jim Balsiger, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seat on the council.

DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.summers@alaskajournal.com.

More in News

A drone rises into the air while kicking up dust, departing on a test flight for the use of beyond visual line of sight drone aircraft, at Furie Operating Alaska’s central processing facility in Nikiski, Alaska, on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Drone test flight operates beyond visual line of sight between Nikiski and a Cook Inlet platform

The drone could perform deliveries to and from Cook Inlet platforms

A map of Lower Skilak Campground shows the areas that will be closed in July and August 2024. (Graphic provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Areas of Lower Skilak Campground to close for repair starting Monday

The East Loop will be closed — projected to be reopened at noon on Aug. 4

Kenai Courthouse is photographed on Feb. 26, 2019, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Sterling resident sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual abuse of minors

Additionally, Crane will face 15 years of supervised probation as well as sex offender registration and treatment

Shrubs grow outside of the Kenai Courthouse on Monday, July 3, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former Soldotna police officer acquitted of 2023 assault allegations

He was found not guilty following a five-day trial in late June

A parade of cars and trucks flying flags in support of former President Donald Trump proceed down the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai, Alaska, on Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Residents caravan across central peninsula in support of Trump

The parade came a day after an attempted assassination of the former president

Drummers perform during a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, July 12, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenaitze tribe celebrates 10 years of ‘far-fetched dream’ at wellness center

Community members recognized the work done at the Dena’ina Wellness Center over the past decade

The Kenai Safeway is seen on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai and Soldotna Safeways may be sold under proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger

The local stores will be sold to CS Wholesale Grocers only if the merger overcomes suit from the FTC

Sockeye salmon caught in a set gillnet are dragged up onto the beach at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Draft plan published for disbursement of $11.5 million in 2021 and 2022 ESSN disasters

Public comment will be accepted for the draft spend plan until July 24

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
King salmon fishing closed on Kasilof starting Monday

The emergency order is being issued to protect returning king salmon, citing weak returns

Most Read