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150529_Frank_Balovich_woolseyHi, my name is Frank Balovich.

Starting Monday, June 1, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in Sitka to decide the future of the halibut resource. More specifically, the council will take testimony to determine if the public will tolerate the unsustainable halibut bycatch limits of 7.3-million pounds in the Bering Sea, and then take action to reduce those limits — or not.

June 1-9 Sitka meeting: View the Council agenda. View the Council schedule.

For 20 years, this excessively high bycatch limit has not changed. Halibut abundance has dropped by half since the limits were set. And commercial fishing limits have been slashed by over 60-percent to conserve stocks.

Yet, the bycatch limits have remained unchanged. As a result, in 2014, seven times as many halibut were caught and killed as bycatch in the Bering Sea, than were harvested in the directed halibut fisheries in the same area. The majority of the fish killed as bycatch are juveniles. They have not yet contributed to the future of the stock. They are the rebuilding potential of the stock, and they are being wiped out.

Most of the halibut bycatch is taken in the trawl fishery, with most of that taken by about 20 large, Seattle-based factory trawlers that use hard on-bottom trawls that target low-value flatfish for export. Compare that to the 2,000 small-boat commercial halibut fishermen, and the 4,700 halibut subsistence fishermen who live in Alaskan communities, and depend on this resource, and you have a sense of what is at stake.

Why should Sitkans care about Bering Sea bycatch? The Bering Sea is the nursery where small halibut grow up before swimming back to the Gulf of Alaska and points south. Trawl bycatch jeopardizes the future of the entire North Pacific Halibut stock and all who appreciate or depend on halibut for subsistence, sport, charter, or commercial harvest. The council’s Advisory Panel will take testimony on this issue on Tuesday, and the full council will likely take testimony on Thursday and possibly Friday. Because the council is meeting in Sitka, Sitka residents have a rare opportunity to express their views on halibut bycatch.  I plan to testify, and this opportunity is available to anyone who signs up in advance.

More information about halibut bycatch can be found on the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association website, www.alfafish.org.

I am Frank Balovich, thank you for listening.