Catch limits lowered for halibut fishery opening March 24

Commercial halibut fisheries get under way March 24, from Southeast Alaska to the Bering Sea, with catch limits lowered and charter vessel management measures tightened compared to a year ago because of stock concerns.

The fishery runs through Nov. 7.

The catch limit for area 3A, the Central Gulf of Alaska, is set at 7,350,000 pounds for the commercial longliners and 1,790,000 pounds for charter boats, down overall by 5.5 percent over 2017.

In Southeast Alaska, the limit is 3,570,000 pounds for commercial harvesters and 810,000 pounds for the charter fleet, down 15.2 percent. Area 3B, in southwest Alaska, got a limit of 2,620,000 pounds, down 16.6 percent from 3,140,000 pounds a year ago.

NOAA Fisheries officials noted that for the first time since 1990, the International Pacific Halibut Commission failed to come to an agreement on catch limits in U.S. waters, because Canada wanted to set catch limits in its waters above science-based sustainable limits.

U.S. fisheries officials then took up the issue through the domestic regulatory process, implementing catch limits and additional charter management measures for waters off Alaska consistent with proposed limits and measures proposed by U.S. commissioners at the IPHC meeting in January.

Those limits are lower than those set for the 2017 fishery and consistent with the best scientific information available on abundance of harvestable halibut in each area, NOAA officials said.

NOAA Fisheries announced the interim final rule on March 19 to ensure that these catch limits, charter boat management measures and catch sharing plan allocations were in place at the start of the fishery.

The interim final rule supersedes the 2017 catch limits, which would have resulted in harvest rates beyond the limits used in fisheries off Alaska for sound, sustainable and precautionary management, NOAA officials said.

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.