Bycatch is defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act as fish that are harvested in a fishery but which are not sold or kept for personal use. This includes unobserved mortality due to a direct encounter with fishing gear that does not result in the capture of that species by a fisherman and the portion of the catch that is discarded back into the sea. Discards include species that must be returned to the sea by law (regulatory discards), and fish that are discarded at the discretion of the fisherman because they are not economically worthwhile to keep (economic discards).
Salmon, crab, herring, and halibut are all prohibited species in the Alaska groundfish fisheries. This means that regulations require bycatch of these species may not be sold. The Council has a long history of developing regulations that prohibit fishermen from fishing in ways that result in high levels of bycatch. For example, regulations in various fisheries prohibit fishing at specific times or areas, may require the use of specific gear or gear modifications and may restrict the use of catch or the level of bycatch. While the reduction in waste is desirable, bycatch restrictions typically increase costs to the groundfish industry, either by limiting fishing or reducing fishing efficiency.
Fisheries observers and at-sea monitors collect data – including bycatch data – from U.S. commercial fishing and processing vessels. Electronic monitoring is also being increasingly utilized to help fishermen keep better track of their catch and to collect catch and bycatch data. This information helps to understand where and when bycatch is occurring and is utilized to develop improved bycatch reduction measures.
NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council have established the Prohibited Species Donation (PSD) program, a voluntary program that allows participating fishermen and seafood processors to donate salmon and halibut to food banks via a distributor. From 2004-2020, SeaShare – the sole applicant and distributor of prohibited species donation – has distributed more than 2,386 mt of salmon and 276 mt of halibut.