Halibut commission reduces Southeast commercial harvest limit 3%

A joint U.S.-Canadian commission voted last month to curtail halibut fishing along the Pacific coast this year.

In Area 2C, which spans Southeast Alaska from the U.S.-Canada maritime border to Yakutat, the total allowable halibut take was set at 5.85 million pounds for 2023, down 1% from the 5.91 million pounds allowed in 2022, the International Pacific Halibut Commission announced.

Guided recreational or charter fishermen can catch 800,000 pounds of halibut in Area 2C. Non-guided recreational fishermen in Area 2C are expected to catch 1.14 million pounds of halibut in 2023.

Commercial fishermen can catch 3.41 million pounds, down 2.85% from the 3.51 million pound limit set in 2022.

The commission sets annual catch limits and management measures for the Pacific halibut fishery across eight regulatory areas including northern California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska coasts.

The commission at its annual meeting in Victoria, British Columbia, approved an overall coastwide halibut take of 36.97 million pounds for 2023, down 10.31% from the 41.22 million pounds allowed in 2022, according to information from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This total catch limit includes landings from commercial halibut fisheries, recreational fisheries and subsistence fishing, as well as “discard mortality” (bycatch) in all fisheries.

Commercial halibut fishermen across all management areas combined will be allowed to catch 24.9 million pounds in 2023, down 11.29% from 28.07 million pounds in 2022. Recreational fishermen are expected to catch 2.4 million pounds of halibut.

Since the commission began regulating halibut in 1923, the annual mortality limit for all management areas has ranged from 34 million to 100 million pounds per year, with an average of 63 million pounds per year.

In Alaska, rural residents and Alaska Native tribal citizens can fish for halibut with Subsistence Halibut Registration Certificates regulated by the commission and implemented by NOAA Fisheries. There is no areawide or coastwide harvest cap for subsistence fishing. The halibut commission estimates subsistence fishermen in Area 2C will catch 290,000 pounds of halibut in 2023, similar to last year’s volume.

In Area 2C, surveys showed just a 1% decline in abundance. In the Gulf of Alaska Area 3A, where halibut biomass is the highest, surveys showed a 37% drop in abundance.

“It’s always a mystery what creates a strong year class in fish. We know it’s environmental conditions, but we don’t know exactly what those conditions are that help a bunch of baby fish spawn and survive,” said Linda Behnken, who represents the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association and is U.S. co-chair of the conference board, a 55-member group of harvesters from the U.S. and Canada.

Behnken said the past five or six years have brought some of the worst-ever “year classes” of fish that hatched. It takes fish a few years to grow large enough to bite a baited hook.

The commission also adopted a proposal from NOAA that changes rules to allow for limited consumption of recreationally caught halibut by fishermen on board charter and sport fishing vessels in all Alaska regulatory areas. Previously, all halibut had to be returned to the dock before sport fishermen could process or eat their catch.

The commercial halibut season will be open March 10.


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