During today’s IPHC Conference Board meeting the Trawl fleet from Areas 4A, B, C, D & E explained their efforts to reduce bycatch on their 19 vessels. They told of deck sorting and other methods to reduce mortality rates. After the presentation they took questions from the Conference Board. My question was simple, would they keep their vessels out of the IPHC closed zone in Area 4E. This area was created in the 1970s because it is a halibut nursery filled with juvenile halibut that weigh 4 to 6 pounds. No user group within the International Pacific Halibut Commission authority can fish in this zone. The zone was put into place as a conservation measure and for the future of halibut stocks.
Of course the representative for these vessels said no they would not commit to keeping their vessels out of the zone. They further said they typically move when they encounter high numbers of halibut. I further urged them to look at bycatch numbers from 2017 and rethink their position and consider conservation and keep out of the area. In 2017 the fleet had a bycatch of 319,000 halibut in the closed zone — the future of halibut recruits in the fishery.
Last year this group of vessels encountered 2,483 metric tons of halibut of which half were returned to the water supposedly alive. Their mortality rate on halibut for just these vessels was 3.2 million pounds of dead halibut. When asked by another Conference Board member if they knew or could tell us the number of halibut instead of pounds of halibut they said they had the number but did not have it available. In reality measuring in metric tons or pounds is obscene in my opinion. If the public realized the trawl fishery is actually killing hundreds of thousands of small immature halibut they would be shocked into action. For instance, if you kill one ton of halibut as bycatch it sounds bad but not nearly as bad as the actual number of halibut that weigh just 5 pounds. In this example it would be 400 dead halibut. When you add up the millions of pounds of bycatch the numbers skyrocket.
So here we are at the IPHC talking about harvest levels, shrinking halibut sizes, shrinking breeding biomass and other nerdy numbers that are hard to follow. From my viewpoint the answer is simple, eliminate destructive trawl fisheries that are destroying our halibut and other groundfish stocks. But that won’t happen because the trawl fleet is a multi-billion dollar industry.