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Alaska's Flatfish Fisheries Become Certified

Sustainability +1 more

US - Following a comprehensive assessment process by an independent certifier, Alaskas flatfish fisheries were certified today under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) environmental standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries.

Products from the flatfish fisheries off Alaska are now eligible to bear the blue MSC ecolabel.

The certification applies to all major flatfish fisheries off Alaska in designated areas in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI).

The BSAI trawl caught species included in this certification are:

  • Yellowfin sole (Pleuronectes asper) also known as (Limanda aspera);
  • Flathead sole (Hippoglossoides elassodon);
  • Arrowtooth flounder (Atheresthes stomias);
  • Alaska plaice (Pleuronectes quadrituberculatus); and,
  • Northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra).

The GOA trawl caught species included in this certification are:

  • Flathead sole (Hippoglossoides elassodon);
  • Arrowtooth flounder (Atheresthes stomias);
  • Rex sole (Glyptocephalus zachirus);
  • Northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra); and,
  • Southern rock sole (L. bilineata).

Conservative management practices in these fisheries have been maintained by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for more than two decades, and the actual catch in the BSAI of between 200,000- 250,000 metric tons in recent years has been 20-25 per cent of annual catch limits established by scientists.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) and the National Marine Fisheries Service have implemented new incentives that ended the “race for fish” for these species in the BSAI. Beginning in 2008, BSAI flatfish catcher-processors were allowed to form cooperatives, and allocate flatfish quotas and bycatch limits among the cooperatives. Giving individual vessels and cooperatives direct responsibility for these limits has significantly reduced bycatch in the newly certified fisheries.

Because flatfish live close to or on the seabed, non-pelagic trawls are used in these fisheries. Bottom contact has been reduced by 90 per cent in these fisheries in recent years. To accomplish this, BUC captains and personnel have engaged in collaborative research with NMFS scientists to develop modified flatfish gear called “Bering Sea flatfish gear”.

This modified gear principally uses sweeps raised off the seafloor by bobbins spaced at 30 meter intervals to herd flatfish into relatively small nets where the fish are captured. Research by NMFS scientists has shown that use of elevated sweeps dramatically reduces effects of fishing on seafloor habitat and associated species such as crab and structure-forming animals called epifauna.

John Gauvin, fisheries science projects director for the Best Use Cooperative, says: “The Alaska flatfish fisheries have undergone a profound and thorough evolution over the last 15 years to address bycatch, discard, and habitat effects issues. This process has involved a great deal of hard work by fishermen, boat owners, fishery scientists, and managers to craft innovative ways to control fishery catches and modify fishing practices to address environmental issues and sustainability demands in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We are very pleased to see that this tremendous effort has been acknowledged by our attainment of the MSC’s demanding sustainability certification.”