North Pacific Council meets in Sitka

Fishermen, scientists, and seafood industry representatives from around Alaska — and the country — are in Sitka this week for the meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. That’s the body that regulates all federal fisheries off Alaska, including pollock, cod and flatfish.

The big, hot button item on the agenda is whether to limit halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. Small fishermen up and down the coast are pushing to reduce the number of halibut taken and discarded by big boats targeting groundfish.

But the Council has several other issues on its plate.

That includes updates on the federal Observer Program, which places biologists on fishing vessels to monitor how much fish — and what kind — are caught. Two years ago, the program began placing observers on small boats, mostly in the longline halibut fleet. Small fishermen have protested that the extra person is a burden, and have asked for an electronic monitoring program, using cameras instead.

The Council will also decide on overfishing limits for three species of crab in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. And they will discuss a proposal to allow vessels fishing for golden king crab to offload parts of their catch in Adak, as part of an effort to sustain a live crab market there.

The Council itself will hold its first day of meetings Wednesday, June 3. It will begin by taking reports from staff and agencies. The Council is expected to take public comment on halibut bycatch late Wednesday or Thursday.

So far this week, two committees that advise the Council have been combing through reports on the various issues. The Scientific and Statistical Committee will meet through Wednesday. The Advisory Panel, made up of industry representatives, will meet through Saturday. That panel will take public comment on halibut bycatch Wednesday.