Commercial fishing for Pacific cod opens on March 11 for the 31.4 million pound halibut catch recommended in January by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, a boost of 5 percent over last year.
Alaska’s total halibut catch was set at 22.73 million pounds, up 1.19 million pounds from 2016, for the season continuing through Nov. 7.
There had been some industry concern that with the 60-day freeze imposed by the Trump administration on all new and pending regulations that the State Department and Commerce Department would be delayed in approving the 2017 fishery, but then the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries announced on March 3 that the commercial fishery would begin as planned.
Industry insiders gave much credit to two women in the catch share branch of NOAA’s Alaska Region office who spent hours working on the regulations sent on to Washington D.C. for approval. They are Rachel Baker, catch share branch chief, and Julie Scheurer, coordinator for charter halibut management and recreational fishing.
Included with the new regulations is one authorizing longline pot gear as legal gear for the commercial halibut fishery in Alaska when NOAA Fisheries regulations permit use of this gear in the individual quota share sablefish fishery. Vessels using longline pot gear to harvest IFQ sablefish in the Gulf will be required to retain halibut consistent with IPHC regulations and NOAA Fisheries regulations.
The use of longline pot gear as legal gear for the commercial halibut fishery in Alaska was authorized by the IPHC at its 2016 annual meeting.
The regulations include an IPHC approved proposal requiring that all commercial Pacific halibut be landed and weighed with their heads attached for data reporting purposes, with head-on halibut subject to a 32-inch minimum size limit. The only exception is for vessels that freeze halibut at sea. Those vessels may deliver frozen, head-off halibut shoreside with a 24-inch minimum size limit.
The 2017 measures clarify that it is prohibited to retain Pacific halibut on a commercial vessel in excess of the total amount of unharvested quota that is currently held by all permit holders aboard the vessel for the area in which the vessel is fishing, unless the vessel has a National Marine Fisheries Service-certified observer on board and maintains a daily fishing lob in compliance with NOAA Fisheries regulations.
In Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, the combined commercial and guided sport catch limit was set at 5,250,000 pounds.
The charter fishery in Area 2C was given a one-fish daily bag limit with a “reverse slot limit.” Charter anglers may only keep a halibut that is less than or equal to 44 inches or greater than or equal to 80 inches in length. The carcasses of any halibut filleted at sea must be retained onboard until landing.
In Area 3A, Southcentral Alaska, the combined commercial and guided sport catch limit was set at10 million pounds.
Charter vessels were allocated a two-fish daily bag limit: one of any size and one no more than 28 inches total length.
Charter vessel anglers are being limited to harvesting no more than four halibut on charter vessel fishing trips in Area 3A in 2018, and these halibut must be reported on the angler’s harvest record.
The charter vessel limit is one trip per calendar day on which halibut are harvested.
No individuals may catch and retain halibut on a charter vessel in Area 3A on three Tuesday closures: July 18, July 25, and Aug. 1.
If halibut are filleted at sea in Area 3A, carcasses of halibut less than or equal to 28 inches must be retained onboard until landing.
Unguided sport anglers in Alaska will continue to have a daily bag limit of two fish of any size per person per day.
Permit holders can access and download copies of their permits online at https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/webapps/efish/login. Please contact Restricted Access Management (RAM) for assistance at 907-586-7202 or 1-800-304-4846.