Federal fisheries officials will implement a halibut catch sharing plan for the commercial and charter halibut fisheries in Southeast and the Central Gulf of Alaska in 2014, the top federal fisheries official for Alaska said Dec. 9.
“This catch sharing plan was developed through the collaborative effort and hard work of many people over several years and, despite some challenges, we are pleased to be able to meet the (North Pacific Fishery Management) Council’s request for implementation in 2014,” said Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska region fisheries.
“This plan will give managers greater precision in setting catch limits and provide more flexibility and stability in the charter harvest,” Balsiger said.
Up until now, the charter sector was managed under a guideline harvest level, a management program that was not optimal in preventing fishing overages when harvest of halibut by recreational anglers on charter vessels increased in Southeast Alaska and the Central Gulf, beginning in the late 1990s, he said.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council had recommended the catch sharing plan to replace the guideline harvest level with a clear allocation between the commercial and charter sectors in areas 2C (Southeast) and 3A (Central Gulf). The council urged NOAA fisheries to implement the halibut catch sharing plan in time for the upcoming season.
Under the catch sharing plan, commercial and charter halibut operations will have a combined catch limit, to be determined each year by the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
The plan is designed to provide halibut fishery managers with greater precision in setting halibut catch limits and management measures responsive to changes in halibut exploitable biomass and fishing effort. Allocations to the charter and commercial sectors will vary with changes in halibut abundance.
Balsiger said that the catch-sharing plan also aims to provide stability and flexibility in charter harvest.
One element of the plan that allows for flexibility is the “guided angler fish” program, which authorizes annual transfers of commercial halibut individual fishing quota to charter halibut permit holders to give charter anglers the opportunity to harvest halibut up to the limit in place for unguided anglers.
During the IPHC interim meeting at Seattle on Dec. 4, the commission heard a recommendation for a 2014 coast wide commercial catch of 24.45 million pounds, which is a 21 percent decrease from the 31.03 million pounds adopted as a final decision at last year’s annual meeting of the IPHC.
Out of the 24.45 million pounds recommended under current IPHC policy, 4.16 million pounds would go to area 2C and 9.34 million pounds to area 3A. That compares with the adopted apportionments of 2.97 million pounds approved last year for area 2C and11.03 million pounds approved for area 3A. The summary of apportionment and harvest policy application for 2014 written by IPHC staff for the Dec. 4 interim meeting is online at http://www.iphc.int/meetings/2013im/presentations/ApportionmentIM2013.pdf
A final determination on the allowable catch, and any regulatory changes, will be made at the annual meeting of the IPHC Jan. 17 in Seattle.