Device may keep halibut from trawlers

NEWPORT — Researchers working with the Pacific Northwest’s groundfish industry have tested a new device that shows promise of significantly reducing the incidental bycatch of halibut from commercial bottom trawl fishermen.

In a series of tests off the Washington coast, commercial fishermen used a “flexible sorting grid excluder” to reduce the number of halibut taken as bycatch by 57 percent, while retaining 84 percent of the targeted groundfish, according to Mark Lomeli of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Incidental bycatch is a significant issue in many coastal regions including the Pacific Northwest. It occurs when fishing operations result in the discard of non-targeted fish and invertebrates, or through accidental interactions with mammals, seabirds and sea turtles. It is of particular concern, resource managers say, when these “bycaught” species are overfished, threatened or endangered.

The halibut project is the latest success in a series of bycatch reduction projects conducted between NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. These projects have captured the interest of the fishing industry, according to Waldo Wakefield of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, a principal investigator on the project and co-author on the article.

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