- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A series of deep cuts to the halibut bycatch allocation for the Bering Sea groundfish bottom-trawl fleet will be considered by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council this week, and the decision to recuse two members of the board could have an effect on the outcome.

The 11-member council will convene in Sitka Wednesday, reports the Alaska Journal of Commerce (http://bit.ly/1dcuIAs ). It will weigh cuts of up to 50 percent of the current bycatch allocation of 7.8 million pounds for the Amendment 80 fleet, a group of 18 trawlers that harvest flatfish.

The board’s final vote might not include the voices of two of its six Alaska representatives, however. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recommended that David Long and Simon Kinneen be recused because of their jobs in the fishing industry.

Those members want the recusals reversed and say there is no direct impact on their work.

Kinneen, Long and council member Sam Cotten sent letters to the NOAA Office of the General Counsel on May 22 to request a review of the recusals.

Cotten is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The recusals would shift the balance of votes on the board.

“This puts a really undue burden on Alaska,” Long said. “We have six voting members, and if two of us are recused we no longer have our majority. And you want to have all your members voting on an issue like this.”

The other seats on the board belong to three Washington state representatives, one Oregon representative and the Alaska Region administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

With Alaska delegates Kinneen and Long recused from the vote, the final decision would rest with four Alaskans, four members from the Pacific Northwest and the one federal seat.

Kinneen said the recusals are stretching the concept of conflict of interest to its extreme.

“They’ve included pollock harvest in the groundfish goals,” he said. “There’s nothing in the action here that could be restraining on pollock harvest. It’s included in those other fisheries, but that pollock harvest could be impacted is not reality.”

Directed halibut fishermen have seen their quotas crash over the last decade as the amount of legally harvestable halibut in the North Pacific has declined. But the limits for halibut bycatch have remained static.

Directed fishermen favor heavy bycatch cuts. The groundfish fleet, which could lose millions of dollars if forced to close by reaching reduced bycatch caps, favors voluntary measures.

The Alaska legislature’s coastal representatives have urged the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to reduce the halibut bycatch cap for the groundfish fleet.

In Washington, meanwhile, a petition implored Gov. Jay Inslee to intervene on behalf of the jobs brought to the state by trawlers operating in the Bering Sea.

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Information from: (Anchorage) Alaska Journal of Commerce, http://www.alaskajournal.com

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