More changes on tap for charter halibut fishing fleets in Southeast, Southcentral Alaska

(Photo from the International Pacific Halibut Commission)

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is looking at more changes for halibut charter fishing in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

The council met in early December and is preparing recommendations for the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which meets next month.

For four out of six years the charter catch in Southeast’s area 2C has been under its allocation since 2014. During the same time guided anglers in Southcentral’s area 3A have been exceeding their allocation. Early estimates of last year’s charter catch was over 665,000 pounds in Southeast and just over two million pounds in Southcentral.

Fishery managers are anticipating further restrictions for the fleet in in the central gulf to bring the catch more in line with the quota. Business owners there lobbied against more fishing restrictions and drastic swings in bag limits.

Ben Martin represented the Homer Charter Association.

“What we really need is consistency,” Martin said. “We can handle a cut but we can’t handle a big cut one year and getting something back the next year and then getting cut a whole other method, over and over, because it just doesn’t work for talking to our clients and trying to maintain our viability in their eyes.”

The council considered changes for both parts of the coastline. For Southcentral, some of the measures under consideration include a one fish bag limit, additional closed days or size limits. Stakeholders wanted to learn more about how those changes would reduce the catch before those decisions are made.

Andy Mezirow is on the North Pacific council and runs a charter business in Seward. He thought the fleet would have to adapt in a time of lower abundance.

“There are significant cuts coming this year and in subsequent years that are going to force the fleet to adapt to these changes or to go out of business,” Mezirow said. “My suggestion is just as the commercial fleet has built up their salmon seiners to fish for halibut, sablefish and cod, charter boat operators may seriously want to consider diversifying and becoming less dependent on halibut until some relief from these low levels of abundance come before them one way or another.”

For the fleet in Southeast area 2C, the council recommended an increase in for the region’s reverse slot limit, allowing up to a 40-inch fish, or anything over 80 inches. However, there could be closed fishing days or annual limits imposed if that change puts the catch over the fleet’s allocation.

The preliminary recommendation for 3A is to add Tuesdays to closed days and to have a second fish maximum size of 26 to 28 inches. The council directed its charter halibut management committee to hold a meeting this winter on measures that would work to reduce the catch.