The Pacific halibut fishery opens today, and all but West Coast harvesters have reduced catch limits for the 2023 season.
Total “removals” for all users were cut by 10.31% to 36.97 million pounds. That includes takes by commercial, sport, subsistence fishermen and halibut caught and discarded as bycatch in eight fishing regions that encompass California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska.
“Due to poor recruitment from 2006-2011, the Pacific halibut stock is at a long-term low in terms of absolute numbers/biomass of fish,” said Dr. David Wilson, director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which sets the annual catch limits. “Although it is not at a point of conservation concern, fishery catch rates in 2022 were also at a multi-decadal low, so there are concerns as to whether the current conditions are acceptable for fishery participants in terms of socio-economic performance.”
The bulk of the halibut catch goes to commercial fisheries. This year, the total commercial catch limit was decreased to 24.9 million pounds, an 11.29% decrease from the 28.07 million pounds allocated in 2022.
Alaska fishermen always get the lion’s share of the Pacific halibut catch, and this year the limits were reduced in every region.
Total Alaska catches were cut by nearly 12% to just under 19 million pounds, compared to 21.5 million pounds last year.
For the Central Gulf — the largest fishing region — halibut catches this year of 7.84 million pounds reflect nearly an 18% drop from 2022.
A Western Gulf catch of 3.09 million pounds is nearly an 8% cut.
The hardest hit was for the Aleutian Islands region where catches were slashed nearly 20%, to 1.41 million pounds.
For other Alaska regions, Southeast fishermen will target 3.4 million pounds of halibut, down 2.85%.
The Area 4B section of the Aleutian Islands took a nearly 4.7% cut to 1.22 million pounds. The Bering Sea halibut catch limit was decreased by nearly 2% to 2.02 million pounds.
Last year, 2,241 Alaska fishermen holding Individual Fishing Quotas for halibut participated in the fishery spanning from the Panhandle to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. They received prices of more than $6 and sometimes topping $7 per pound.
Kodiak bumped Homer from the top spot with halibut landings at nearly 2.8 million pounds compared to about 2.5 million pounds at Homer.
The 2023 Pacific halibut fishery will run through Dec. 7.
New rules are in place to keep charter harvests within their respective allocations under a catch sharing plan with the directed commercial fishery.
For commercial and charter halibut fishers in Alaska, the following regulations are in effect:
In Area 2C (Southeast Alaska):
Charter Anglers are restricted to one halibut per day, with a reverse slot limit where retained halibut must be less than or equal to 40 inches, or greater than or equal to 80 inches.
All Mondays will be closed to halibut retention from July 24 to Dec. 31.
In Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska):
There is a daily bag limit of two halibut, but one fish must be no greater than 28 inches.
All Wednesdays are closed to halibut retention.
Nine Tuesdays — June 20, June 27, July 4, July 11, July 18, July 25, Aug. 1, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15) are closed to halibut retention.
Charter halibut permits and charter halibut vessels are only authorized to retain halibut on one trip per day.
Unguided halibut sport fishers in Alaska will continue to observe a daily bag limit of two fish of any size per person per day.
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