March saw the highest bycatch of opilio crab in the last four years. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, reported just over 290,000 opies caught, mostly by non-pelagic, or bottom, trawlers, almost triple the next-highest total since 2017. Almost 161,000 of those crab were caught the week ending March 21 in a single area, 521, northwest of the Pribilof Islands in the central Bering Sea.
Non-pelagic trawlers were also responsible for the year’s highest halibut bycatch mortality in a single area. Observers on vessels fishing for rock sole, yellowfin sole, and Alaska plaice in area 513 just east of the Pribilofs recorded 201,000 pounds of dead halibut during the week ending March 28. That represents 89 percent of the week’s total. The area with the next-highest total, area 630 in the central Gulf of Alaska south of Homer, recorded just under 11,000 pounds. So far in 2020, just over 1.8 million pounds of halibut have been caught as bycatch, while the longline fleet targeting the flatfish has landed about 520,000 thousand pounds.
NMFS reported 1,804 king salmon caught across all areas and fisheries, bringing the year’s total to 24,258.