“Glacial” is the word most often used to describe the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process, but that’s actually unfair to glaciers.
Not even time-lapse photography would reveal much movement on reducing halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska until the council’s vote June 8 in Kodiak to cut it by 15 percent starting in 2014.
The only previous cut in trawl halibut bycatch was a 27.4 metric ton reduction for the rockfish program passed in 2010 that represented about 1.4 percent of the 2,000 metric ton, or 4.4 million pound, trawl halibut bycatch allotment in place since 1986.
Rather than compromise on the amount of the reduction, as many expected, the council compromised with the trawl fleet on time by phasing in the maximum cut under consideration over three years.
We applaud the council action as an important first step, and encourage the members to continue pushing toward more meaningful measures to reduce bycatch even further.
It remains to be seen whether the sunset date was the proper way to limit ballooning costs of entry that typically accompany rationalized programs where shares are bought and sold at 5-1 rates to dockside prices, but it was an action that showed at attempt by the council to address a real problem.
The North Pacific council was once on a path toward Gulf rationalization early last decade. Then the Bering Sea crab rationalization took effect in 2005. Two-thirds of the fleet was tied up overnight, and 1,000 crew positions were gone from one season to the next.
By allowing unlimited quota stacking and leasing, the program made millionaires out of a handful of initial shareholders and slashed crew pay by more than half from historical percentages in some cases.
The fallout from the crab program, with ground zero centered in Kodiak, killed the Gulf rationalization efforts.
If the council has trouble pursuing a rationalized management program in the Gulf because of public reservations, the failure to correct the crew situation in the crab program is a major reason why those hard feelings still exist.
The current council didn’t construct the crab program back in 2003, but it hasn’t moved an inch to resolve this issue even after being confronted with compensation tables in 2010 showing the situation has deteriorated to the point at which crew who harvested 150,000 more pounds of lucrative Bristol Bay red king crab than others actually received less pay because of lease rates and quota stacking.