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.
Kodiak will not take Alaska’s halibut title for a second year. With 97 percent of the halibut quota in the central Gulf used, Homer has landed 4.39 million pounds of halibut to Kodiak’s 3.38 million. The halibut season ends Nov. 15, and just under 339,000 pounds of halibut quota remains in the central Gulf of Alaska. Statewide, 20.53 million pounds of the state’s 21.81 million-pound quota have been taken. After Homer and Kodiak, the state’s biggest halibut ports are Seward (2.74 million pounds), Dutch Harbor (1.43 million pounds) and Sitka, (1.17 million pounds).
Several closures are coming up on Friday. That’s when Alaska’s biggest fishery – pollock in the Bering Sea – will close for the year. Roughly three billion pounds will come out of that fishery. The Gulf pollock fishery also wraps up for trawlers on November 1, as does Pacific cod. Fishing for cod continues for other gear types in both the Gulf and Bering Sea. Pot and jig fishing could last all year.
As regulations tighten on the size of sport-caught halibut on charter boats in Alaska, sport fishermen are faced with a challenge of how to tell the size of a halibut without pulling it out of the water and applying a measuring tape. While accurate, holding up a ruler to a floundering fish can be dangerous to both the fish and the crew.
“The operators have been aware that there is a small, but consequential issue concerning the survival of the sport-caught halibut.” Terry Johnson is a professor of fisheries for the Marine Advisory Program. Southeast Charter boat captains asked Sea Grant and the AMCC for their help.
Fall marks the start of fish meetings that will give Alaskans a first look at next year’s proposed groundfish and halibut catches. The Groundfish plan team met in Seattle from Sept. 10-13th, and the recommendation on the big volume harvests of Bering Sea pollock and cod was steady as she goes. The plan team recommended virtually no changes from the 2013 TAC's of 1.247 million metric tons for pollock, and 260,000 metric tons for cod.
The pacific cod B season is slowly edging along into it’s third week since the September 1st opener. Managers say around six vessels are active, with about 10 landings so far... totaling about 370,000 pounds. barely putting a dent in the 9.6 million pound P-cod limit.
Halibut scientists plan to expand the yearly stock assessments by 30% next summer, adding 390 survey stations to the existing 1,300. The stations are located coast wide from Oregon to the Bering Sea. Since 1998 the halibut surveys have been done in a depth range of 20 to 275 fathoms where most of the fishing was taking place. But, that’s been changing.
As the comment period for a proposal to change the way halibut is divvied up between charter operators and commercial fishermen nears to an end, a teleconference workshop with officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries aimed at explaining the proposed halibut Catch Sharing Plan drew a dozen or so residents last week from the Homer area.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries officials held an informal audioconference presentation on Tuesday night on the proposed halibut Catch Sharing Plan. Participants had the chance to call in and ask questions. Most listened in and asked questions at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center with a group of about 15, mostly charter captains. The format didn’t allow for the face-to-face conversation of 2011 when NOAA-National Marine Fisheries officials came to Homer and a group of about 150 fishermen made their views heard.
Two years ago, NOAA went to Homer at the end of the Kenai Peninsula some 220 road miles south of Anchorage to explain its plan to take halibut away from tens of thousands of charter boat clients and give the big flatfish to 1,431 commercial fishermen. Needless to say, the NOAA bureaucrats who showed up in the self-proclaimed Halibut Capital of the World got roasted.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council says the goal of the halibut catch share plan is to adjust the percentage of allocation of halibut between the charter sector and the commercial fishery to reflect more recent catch patterns.
In response to requests by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, the Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center and the Alaska Charter Association, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries announced Wednesday it had extended the comment period on the controversial Catch Sharing Plan — but only by 14 days. The new comment period ends Aug. 26.
NOAA Fisheries on July 24 announced an additional 14-day extension, through Aug. 28, for public comment on the proposed halibut catch-sharing plan. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended the catch sharing plan to establish a clear allocation between the commercial and charter sectors in southeast Alaska and the central Gulf of Alaska, to provide stability for affected halibut fishery participants and greater management flexibility.