ALFA Letter to the Editor in the Sitka Daily Sentinel Regarding Halibut Bycatch


In 2014, trawl fisheries killed and discarded seven times more halibut in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands than halibut fishermen landed in the same area.  That’s 1.05 million halibut killed as bycatch in trawls versus 149,000 halibut harvested by directed halibut fishermen.  

How did we get to this point?  Halibut abundance has declined over the past 15 years, and the International Pacific Halibut Commission has steadily reduced halibut quotas to conserve and protect this iconic species.  In contrast, halibut bycatch caps, or the amount of halibut trawlers can kill as bycatch, have not been measurably reduced for 20 years.  As a result, halibut have been steadily reallocated to the trawl fleet—to be killed and wasted as bycatch.  

Why should Sitkan’s care about bycatch in the Bering Sea?  First, because most Sitka residents care about sustainable resource use and healthy fishing communities no matter where they are; and second, because the Bering Sea is the nursery ground for all North Pacific halibut.  In fact, 70-90% of juvenile halibut tagged in the Bering Sea are later recovered in the Gulf of Alaska—from waters off Kodiak to Ketchikan and as far south as California.  Quite simply, what happens in the Bering Sea effects everyone who depends on or cares about the halibut resource.

 And in Alaska, that is a lot of people.  Approximately 2,000 Alaskans are licensed to commercially harvest halibut in the North Pacific, and each employ on average two additional people as crew.  Halibut is delivered into 32 Alaska communities each year, where is it processed and shipped to a primarily domestic market.  Over 4,700 Alaskans harvest halibut for subsistence and hundreds more sportfish for halibut in Alaska.  

What can you do to stop the waste?  During the first week of June the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet IN SITKA.  Prominent on the Council’s agenda is final action on an amendment to reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea.  ALFA and other halibut groups are calling for a 50% reduction in halibut bycatch caps.  The Council welcomes both written and oral testimony.  Written comments can be sent to and must be submitted before May 22.  Oral testimony will start on June 4th.  Need more information?  Please visit the ALFA website at and look for the Halibut Fact Sheet posted on the home page.  

Linda Behnken
Executive Director, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association