NOAA’s Fisheries Service has begun implementing the regulatory recommendations of the International Pacific Halibut Commission because of concerns over declining halibut stocks. The new regulations include a 37-inch limit on the size of a halibut hooked by clients aboard charter vessels in Southeast Alaska, and retaining the one-fish-per-person-a-day rule implemented in 2009.
NOAA officials said the halibut stocks are declining due to reduced numbers of fish reaching a catchable size range, lower growth rates, and higher than target harvest rates, and that meanwhile stocks continue to be at risk of further decline.
“The declining halibut stock is impacting both charter and commercial halibut fishers all along the west coast from Washington State to Alaska, “said James Balsiger, Alaska Fisheries regional administrator for the federal agency. “NOAA’s Fisheries Service is committed to working cooperatively with our international partners in Canada to jointly manage this important stock for the long-term benefit of both our countries.”
Numerous restrictions have been implemented on Area 2C charter boats in an effort to more closely align charter harvest with the limit, but those measures have been insufficient, NOAA officials said. Even with the one fish bag limit last year, the charter halibut fleet exceeded its harvest limit by 491,000 pounds, or 62 percent. Each year that the charter fleet exceeds its harvest limit it leads to a lower fixed quota for the commercial fishery the following year. The commercial catch limit in area 2C is now 73 percent lower than it was in 2003.
According to NOA, the idea behind the rule is to let charter halibut vessels continue to stay in business while staying within the harvest limit, and minimizing adverse effects on the charter fishery, its clients and coastal communities that serve as home port for that fishery. Allowing halibut stocks to rebuild will best serve the economic interests of both the charter and commercial fisheries over the long term, NOAA officials said.
The harvest limit was adopted by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and implemented by NOAA Fisheries in 2003. Under a treaty in place since 1923, between the U.S. and Canada the IPHC has governed the harvest of Pacific halibut by all users. A critical element in maintaining the health of the resource is that catch limits not be exceeded. The commercial halibut fishery has not exceeded the Area specific catch limit recommended by IPHC Commissioners in any year since the IFQ plan was implemented in 1995.