A federal fishery council has approved a shift in fishing gear to keep whales from dining on fishermen’s black-cod catch in the Gulf of Alaska.
Gulf of Alaska whales that dine on hooked black cod are likely to find slimmer pickings in the years ahead.
Under a measure approved late Sunday by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, fishermen will be free to ditch their longline gear that frequently lose the fish to killer and sperm whales.
The fishermen now will be permitted to use pots that trap — rather than hook — the bottom-dwelling fish, and then protect the catch from hungry cetaceans as it’s brought to the surface.
“I’m driving to the shipyard now to decide how to convert — we’re going to do it,” said Paul Clampitt, an Edmonds-based longliner who has fished for many years in the Gulf of Alaska.
A fleet of more than 360 boats pursues the high-value black cod, which were worth nearly $80 million to fishermen in 2013.
The council vote comes after years of frustration and debate among fishermen about the killer whales and sperm whales that have grown adept at grabbing black cod from the longlines.
Just last week, Clampitt said the crew of his vessel found a prime Gulf of Alaska spot that yielded 9,000 pounds of fish on a first longline set of thousands of baited hooks along the sea bottom. Then sperm whales showed up. The second string the crew pulled up had 5,000 pounds of fish and the last string only 700 pounds, Clampitt said.
Not all black-cod fishermen favor the shift in fishing tactics, and the measure does not require them to switch gear.
Some longline fishermen said it would be difficult to use pots on their smaller boats. They also are concerned about gear conflicts they would face trying to lay their longlines in prime spots claimed by pots.
The final measure approved by the council sought to address some of the concerns by restricting the number of pots that can be used in parts of the Gulf frequented by small-boat fishermen. The measure also requires them to remove pots when they leave the grounds to deliver fish.
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Though black-cod pots have not been permitted in the Gulf, they have long been used to catch these fish in the Bering Sea and off the West Coast. The black cod are lured by bait through an opening, and then can’t find their way back out.
Pot advocates say these sea-bottom traps efficiently catch the black cod without a lot of bycatch of other species that end up accidentally hooked by longlines.
Information in this article, originally published April 14, 2015, was corrected April 15, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the terms of the council measure to switch to pots. It does not require fishermen to switch to pots.