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A groundfish factory trawler belonging to one of the BUC member companies. (Photo: Ocean Peace)

Alaska flatfish obtains MSC certification

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010, 21:50 (GMT + 9)

Alaska’s flatfish fisheries were certified on Monday under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) environmental standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. 

The client for certification is the Best Use Cooperative (BUC).

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 (NPFMC) for more than two decades, and the actual catch in the BSAI of between 200,000- 250,000 tonnes in recent years has been 20-25 per cent of annual catch limits established by scientists.

The NPFMC 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”. 

The BUC includes seven companies and sixteen trawl catcher-processors that harvest groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. Member companies in the BSAI include: Fishermen's Finest, Inc., Cascade Fishing Co., Ocean Peace, O'Hara Corporation, Jubilee Fisheries, TR Fishing Co., Iquique US and United States Seafoods. In the Gulf of Alaska, most of the approximately 30 catcher vessels involved to some degree with flatfish fishing are members of the Alaska Draggers Association and the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank.

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