Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pacific Halibut Opener Gets Under Way on March 11

Commercial fishing for Pacific halibut will open on March 11, with a catch limit of 31.4 million pounds, a 5 percent increase from a year ago. Alaska’s total halibut catch is set at 22.62 million pounds, an increase of 1.17 million pounds from 2016.

The season will continue through Nov. 7.

The 2017 regulations were published on March 7 in the Federal Register at

The announcement came after 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 start of the fishery. 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 DC for approval. They are Rachel Baker, catch share branch chief, and Julie Scheurer, coordinator for charter halibut management and recreational fishing.

The new regulations include authorization for 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 specified in the final rule to authorize longline pot gear.

Use of longline pot gear as legal gear for the commercial halibut fishery in Alaska was authorized at the IPHC’s annual meeting in 2016.

A regulatory amendment approved by the IPHC requires that beginning in 2017 all commercial Pacific halibut must be landed and weighed with their heads attached for data reporting purposes. The amendment requires that halibut be landed head-on and those head-on halibut will be subject to a 32-inch minimum size limit, the only exception being for vessels that freeze halibut at sea. Those vessels may deliver their frozen, head-off halibut shoreside with a 24-inch minimum size limit.

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