Halibut commission boosts catch limits for most of the coast

(Creative Commons photo by Ed Bierman)
(Creative Commons photo by Ed Bierman)

The International Pacific Halibut Commission on Friday approved an increase in halibut catch limits for most of the coast.

The joint U.S. and Canadian body oversees management of the prized bottom fish from California to Alaska. The commission held its annual meeting in Juneau last week.

Commissioners approved a coastwide catch of 29,890,000 pounds for 2016. That’s an increase of 2.2 percent from last year’s limits.

Commission chair Jim Balsiger of Juneau said the decisions were not easy.

“The discussions focused quite a bit, both in the public and in our executive sessions about the trade-offs we have to make between rebuilding the stocks and capturing some revenue in the fisheries now when things look a little bit better,” Balsiger said. “I’m happy where we ended up so I think it was a good meeting.”

The commission approved catch limits above the IPHC staff’s “blue line” numbers. Those represent long-standing harvest percentages applied to the estimated legal-sized halibut for each regulatory area.

Commissioner Jeff Kauffman of St. Paul noted the overall decision was about 12 percent or 3.2 million pounds above that blue line number.

For most of the coast, commissioners approved a season start date of March 19 and end date of Nov. 7.

Commissioners did not approve any change to the size of halibut that can be kept in the commercial fishery. Charter bag limits are the same, although charter fishermen in Southeast get an extra inch on smaller keeper halibut this year, up to 43 inches.

The commission voted to approve longline pot gear as legal gear for halibut in areas where the National Marine Fisheries Service already allows pots in the sablefish fishery. That will allow commercial boats fishing for black cod to keep halibut caught in pots in the Gulf of Alaska. That change will be reviewed by the IPHC in three years.

Commissioners thanked outgoing director Bruce Leaman for his work. He’s been with the IPHC since 1997 and is turning over the reigns this August to David Wilson. Wilson has worked in Indian Ocean tuna management and with fisheries in Australia.

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