Halibut plan open for public comment

Halibut come in at Juneau’s Taku Fisheries. Courtesy NOAA Fisheries.

A 45-day  public comment period is open on a halibut catch sharing plan for Southeast and the Central Gulf of Alaska.

The plan was recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council last fall and the public comment period is part of the process for implementing new federal regulations. Rachel Baker is a fishery management specialist with NOAA Fisheries in Alaska.

“It will change the annual process of allocating halibut between the charter and commercial fisheries in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska,” she says. “It will establish allocations for each sector and then specify methods for setting harvest restrictions for charter anglers.”

The proposed system would allocate a percentage of the combined charter and commercial catch to the charter fleet, with the overall amount set each year by the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

To keep the charter catch at allocation levels, the North Pacific council is expected to annually recommend charter fleet management measures as well as bag and size limits. The plan would replace the guideline harvest level system currently in place for the charter fleet.

Baker says the catch share plan also creates a system for the commercial halibut fleet to transfer individual fishing quota, or IFQs, to the charter fleet, under what’s called the Guided Angler Fish program.

“It’s a voluntary program. No one is required to use the guided angler fish program. It’s just intended to give IFQ permit holders and charter permit holders some flexibility when charter harvest limits are something less than what’s in place for unguided anglers,” she says.

Public comment closes August 12. The National Marine Fisheries Service will use the public comments to compile a final rule.  If it’s implemented, the allocation plan could be in place for the 2014 season.

Comments can be submitted electronically, by mail at P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668; or by fax at 907-586-7557.

Comments should be addressed to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, and identified by FDMS Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2011-0180.