Alaska longliners are ready to steam out of town for the Saturday start of the Pacific halibut fishery. Alaska’s catch of roughly 19 million pounds is down about 11 percent. The sablefish, or black cod, fishery also opens on March 8. That quota was reduced by 10 percent this year to just under 34 million pounds.

NOAA published its final rules for charter halibut as the season opened on Saturday. For area 2C, in Southeast Alaska, there will be a one fish daily bag limit, and an exclusion of all fish between the sizes of 44 inches and 76 inches. This means charters can only keep fish smaller than 44 inches, or larger than 76 inches. For area 3A, (central Alaska) the charter bag limit is 2 fish, and charters are restricted to one trip per day where they catch fish. If no halibut are caught, the charter can make a second trip. The IPHC's smaller catch was also formally approved by NMFS for the fishery.

"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.