Groundfish Forum sues NOAA Fisheries over halibut bycatch rule

Halibut on a boat in Alaska.

The Groundfish Forum a Seattle, Washington, U.S.A-based trade group representing five U.S. trawling companies  has sued NOAA Fisheries over a newly adopted plan to reduce halibut bycatch in Bering Sea and Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries.

In November 2023, NOAA Fisheries finalized a rule potentially lowering the annual halibut catch limit for the Amendment 80 sector a fleet of 20 groundfish-trawling vessels operating in the Bering Sea. The new rule, which went into effect 1 January 2024, ties the annual catch limit to the most recent halibut abundance figures. The previous static catch level of 1,745 metric tons (MT) for halibut bycatch is kept as a ceiling, but the catch limit can be lowered by up to 35 percent if the abundance level is considered low.

The Groundfish Forum filed suit 19 December 2023, claiming that the change was unfair and could cost its members more than USD 100 million (EUR 91 million) in annual losses. The group argued that the rule Amendment 123 violates the Magnuson-Stevens and National Environmental Policy acts, calling it “a politically motivated, arbitrary, and unlawful allocation of fishing privileges.”

Groundfish trawlers are the only fishing sector targeted by the new rule, the Groundfish Forum noted, despite the fact that the Amendment 80 fleet has already taken steps to reduce halibut bycatch.

“Like all [Bering Sea and Aleutian Island] groundfish sectors and gear types, the Amendment 80 sector unavoidably catches some Pacific halibut when fishing for targeted species,” the Groundfish Forum stated. “Over almost three decades, however, the Amendment 80 sector has dramatically reduced Pacific halibut bycatch and mortality through the implementation of numerous operational measures and regulatory bycatch caps that limit the amount of halibut bycatch mortality that is permitted.”

In 2022, the sector took “only one pound of halibut for every 214 pounds of groundfish,” according to the Groundfish Forum.

The Groundfish Forum also noted in its lawsuit that U.S. regulations require its represented fishermen to discard every halibut they catch even though the fish could be sold.

NOAA Fisheries has not publicly commented on the lawsuit.

Photo courtesy of Annali Metz/Israel Patterson


Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500