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Alaska fisheries blogger shares video of alleged misuse of halibut bycatch

Craig Medred

After going dark for more than a month, Tholepin -- an anonymous, Kodiak-based blogger who has been a thorn in the side of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) -- has resurfaced with what is reported to be a video of a trawler crew tossing halibut bycatch off the deck of a boat in the Kodiak harbor.

The video is of low quality, the date on which it was shot impossible to determine, and its validity impossible to independently confirm. But it clearly shows flatfish that appear to be halibut being thrown overboard to a gang of circling marine mammals -- possibly sea lions.

The website does promise "more (video) soon," calling the 54-second clip a "tease."

Trawl bycatch is supposed to be kept and donated to charity. It is also against the law to feed marine mammals. Tholepin has long been a critic of the way in which federal fishery officials manage the bycatch of Alaska halibut and salmon in offshore trawl fisheries. The federal agency has previously engaged in efforts to discredit the blogger.

Julie Speegle, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Alaska -- which oversees the NMFS -- sent Alaska Dispatch an email in 2011 citing an error in the headline of an article reporting "Seattle cod trawler wastes 104 tons of Alaska halibut." The headline should have said cod trawlers, plural. Speegle used the mistake as an opportunity to single out the blogger, whose report the Dispatch story cited.  

"Tholepin is not a credible source," she wrote. The blogger was, at the time, quoting the federal agency's own figures for numbers on bycatch.

Speegle subsequently warned "I usually urge (use of) our standard statement 'Catch numbers may change as more information becomes available' because the data will likely change." And in subsequent emails with Speegle, it did turn out that Tholepin's report of "228,800 pounds of halibut wasted by draggers just last week" was wrong. It was under-reported by 478 pounds. The actual quantity was 229,278 pounds.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com