Bush Caucus urges reduction in halibut bycatch caps

Five members of the Alaska Legislature’s Bush Caucus have asked Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang to advocate for a reduction of halibut bycatch caps during the virtual North Pacific Fishery Management Council now underway.

“Millions of pounds of halibut are discarded as bycatch every year,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka. “The health of our halibut stocks means we must reduce bycatch. Alaska’s representation on the North Pacific Council should advocate for this goal.”

“Pacific halibut is important to Alaskans culturally, economically and socially,” said the letter signed by Representatives Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham; John Lincoln, undeclared-Kotzebue; Dan Ortiz, non-affiliated-Ketchikan; Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel; and Kreiss-Tomkins.

The Bush caucus noted that halibut fishermen lose a portion of their annual allocation of halibut every year due to the currently high bycatch caps. Tying halibut bycatch management to abundance and lowering caps would bring immense benefit to rural and coastal Alaska communities, they said.

The legislators told Vincent-Lang that it has been more than five years since the state of Alaska, through the federal fisheries board, agreed to lower Pacific halibut bycatch caps in the face of a diminishing biomass. Despite efforts on both sides for five years, tying the management of halibut bycatch to the halibut abundance is still not a reality, they said.