Southeast commercial halibut catch increased for 2014

Images_Pacific_halibutSoutheast Alaska’s commercial halibut catch limit is going up.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission concluded its annual meeting Friday in Seattle and approved catch limits for Alaska, British Columbia, and the west coast of the U.S.

The combined commercial and charter catch for Southeast’s Area 2C will be 4.16 million pounds. That includes a commercial catch limit of 3,318,720 pounds, that’s an increase of about 11 percent from last year. Southeast is the only area that will see an increased catch from 2013.

The commission also approved a catch sharing plan recommended by the North Pacific fishery Management Council and implemented by federal fishery managers for Southeast and the central Gulf. That’s a first. The catch sharing plan allocates pounds to the charter fleet and replaces the old system of a guideline harvest level for charter anglers. It’ll also allow annual purchases of commercial quota by the charter fleet.

That plan will mean a limit of over 761-thousand pounds to the Southeast charter fleet for 2014. As a result, charter clients will have a one-fish daily bag limit in Southeast with what’s called a “reverse slot limit.” Charter anglers in the Panhandle can keep a fish up to 44 inches, or 76 inches and longer, but not anything between those lengths.

Coast-wide the commissioners did not go with the roughly 30 percent catch reduction as presented by staff in December. The so-called “blue line” numbers, presented to the commission by staff, applies long-standing harvest percentages to the estimated legal-sized halibut for each regulatory area. Instead the commission approved a larger coastwide catch limit of over 27 and a half million pounds.

US commissioner Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, called it the toughest halibut commission meeting he’s attended.

“We’re in a trying position with the resource, the halibut resource not rebuilding as rapidly as we’d like it to,” Balsiger said.” We have some issues with that. I think it is important to note, and we went over this earlier but, the decision table which contains the blue line, the entire table contains recommendations from the staff on how to set the catch limits. Where we operate in that decision table is really a reflection of the conservative nature of the various halibut commissioners, because they’re all valid positions it just depends on how much risk is deemed appropriate, how much conservatism has to be cranked into those tables.”

The commercial catch in area 3A, the central gulf, will see a big cut this year, about 33 percent, down to 7.3 million pounds. And the charter fleet’s limit in the gulf was set at 1.7 million pounds. Charter clients there will have a two fish daily bag limit with a 29 inch limit on a second fish.

The commercial and sport catch in British Columbia will see a small reduction, but not the 29 percent cut initially considered in the “blue line” number presented by IPHC staff.

The commission approved a season start date of March 8th and fishing will be open through November 7th.

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