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This Week in Bycatch - March 20

Nancy Heise

Regulatory area 521, in the central Bering Sea just northwest of the Pribilof Islands, recorded the highest bycatch totals for nearly  all prohibited species for the week ending March 14.  Onboard observers reported 61000 bairdi crab, nearly 80,000 opilio crab, 771 king salmon, and ninety one thousand pounds of halibut mortality in that area.  The 168 red king crab caught there put it just behind area 509 north of False Pass, which recorded 252.  Pelagic, or midwater, trawlers caught most of the salmon, while non-pelagic, or bottom, trawlers were responsible for the majority of the halibut and crab.  
Fishing pressure for the week was so heavily concentrated in Area 521 that it accounted for 86% of total halibut mortality.  The second-highest total was twenty-seven hundred pounds in Area 513, followed by twenty-six hundred pounds in Area 630, a huge chunk of the Central Gulf of Alaska south of the Kenai Peninsula.  Area 630 still leads all areas in halibut mortality so far in 2020 with just over four hundred thousand pounds, despite the closure of the federal fishery for Pacific cod throughout the Gulf.
Bycatch in the first two weeks of March is down considerably from 2019, however, when five hundred seventy two thousand pounds of halibut mortality were recorded by the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS.  The same period this March has yielded almost exactly half that, with two hundred eighty- three thousand pounds.  So far in 2020, one point five million pounds of halibut mortality have been recorded across the state.  In the targeted halibut longline fishery, which opened March 14, two hundred fourteen thousand pounds have been delivered, according to NMFS.

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