"The buzz in the seafood world right now is the beginning of halibut season," says Dannon Southall of 10th & M Seafoods. "The season for these lovely flatfish begins this weekend; we are hoping the weather holds on the fishing grounds and fishermen are able to get out to target these amazing fish.
"As long as all the contributing factors go our way we should have fresh halibut in at the beginning of the week."
John Jackson from New Sagaya Markets says the first-of-the-year fish will probably carry a hefty price tag.
Plans to expand halibut surveys by 30% have been trimmed a bit but boats are still needed to help. Each summer halibut scientists survey 1,300 stations from Oregon to the Bering Sea. Since 1998 the surveys have been done in a depth range of 20 to 275 fathoms where most of the fishing takes place. Now they want to check out deeper and shallower depths.
NMFS has taken a reccomendation from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and tightened halibut bycatch limits for commercial groundfish fishermen in the Gulf of Alaska with plan set to start this year. The Amendment 95 plan will minize halibut bycatch for GOA groundfish fisheries which include pollock, Pacific cod, rockfish and other flatfish.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council took a step toward to reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands at its February meeting, but did not foreshadow how it might do so. The council agreed unanimously Feb. 8 to ask for another draft of a Bering Sea halibut bycatch discussion paper. Halibut is taken as bycatch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries. There are limits on halibut bycatch, but those were set at a time of higher abundance, and do not apply to every sector.
After extensive public testimony on the matter, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed to take an initial step in possible changes to the existing vessel caps in halibut and sablefish fisheries.
Currently, any vessel in the halibut individual fishing quota, or IFQ, fishery is prevented from harvesting more than a certain portion of the statewide harvest. In 2013, that was 109,000 pounds.
Coastal Villages Region Fund (CVRF) says that the halibut quotas set in the Western Bering Sea this year are unfair. They have claimed that they are taking a larger reduction in quota than other CDQ associations, and are using the halibut issue as part of their campaign to overturn historic fish allocations among community development groups.
Southeast Alaska’s commercial halibut catch limit is going up.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission concluded its annual meeting Friday in Seattle and approved catch limits for Alaska, British Columbia, and the west coast of the U.S.
The combined commercial and charter catch for Southeast’s Area 2C will be 4.16 million pounds. That includes a commercial catch limit of 3,318,720 pounds, that’s an increase of about 11 percent from last year. Southeast is the only area that will see an increased catch from 2013.
Commercial and charter halibut fishermen on the Kenai Peninsula will see a reduced catch in 2014 under limits announced Friday at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s annual meeting. However, Southeast Alaska will see an increase. The overall coastwide quota of 27.5 million pounds is slightly higher than the 24.5 million pounds suggested by the preliminary numbers, but represents an 11.4% decrease from the 31.03 million pound TAC in 2013.
The National Marine Fisheries Service offered some management certainty for Alaskans interested in catching halibut when it announced that it would implement the new catch sharing plan in 2014. Under the plan, or CSP, commercial and charter operators in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska will have a combined catch limit next summer, with each sector taking a certain percentage of that pool of fish. The exact percentage each sector takes are different in Area 2C and Area 3A, or Southeast and the central Gulf of Alaska, respectively, and also vary with abundance.
The preliminary numbers for 2014 halibut catches would mean cuts for most of the west coast, including Alaska, compared to 2013, but it’s unclear if those numbers will become the real limits. Under the “blue-line” catch limit recommendations announced at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s Dec. 4 and 5 meeting in Seattle, coastwide total removals would be about 36.4 million pounds, with a commercial halibut harvest of about 24.5 million pounds for 2014.
Halibut fishermen are bracing for another huge quota cut after the International Pacific Halibut Commission staff presented a rather grim stock assessment at their interim meeting in Seattle last week. While there is no longer a “staff recommendation,” staff members do present a decision table with a “blue line” that is essentially the same thing: a harvest level at which the fishery should not diminish too much further in the future. For 2014, the blue line came in at a coast-wide quota, from California to the Bering Sea, of 24.45 million pounds, down 21 percent from 2013.
NMFS said it will implement a catch sharing plan for the 2014 commercial and charter halibut fisheries in Southeast Alaska and the Central Gulf of Alaska. The catch sharing plan was recommended by the North Pacific Management Council to replace the existing guideline harvest level management plan, which had been criticized for not preventing fishing overages when charter fishing had increased in the region in the late 1990s.
Near the end of each year, bills are sent out to Alaska fishermen who hold IFQs for halibut and sablefish. They pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover the costs for managing and enforcing those fisheries. The fee, which is capped at three percent, is based on dock prices and averaged across the state.
Last month NMFS released some preliminary data on Gulf of Alaska halibut discards based on the first year of observers on the small boat halibut fleet. The numbers shocked many people, with discards extrapolated across the fleet to be as high as 20 million lbs.
Charter halibut regulations and groundfish catches top the list of discussion items at the upcoming North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting. The council, which meets in Anchorage Dec. 11 to 16, is tasked with recommending halibut management measures for 2014 and will have to incorporate the preliminary information on the overall halibut harvest quotas.
Will Alaska's halibut catches be cut again next year? That's the big question as the industry braces for the International Pacific Halibut Commission's interim meeting this week in Seattle. By all accounts, there appear to be lots of halibut in Alaska waters, but their unusually slow growth rates have forced down catches for nearly a decade. The Alaska total this year was about 22 million pounds.