NPFMC recommends two halibut for guided Southcentral anglers

Halibut fishermen, both charter and commercial, will see changes in 2014 under the likely catch limits.

Managers are looking at another year of lower catch limits due to a decline in the exploitable halibut stock, and in 2014 for the first time, charter operators will face a paired cut in their allowed catch alongside commercial quota holders.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is recommending that guided anglers from Southcentral and Kodiak ports, or Area 3A, be allowed to catch two fish while out on a charter trip, with the second fish is limited to 29 inches or smaller.

For Area 2C, or Southeast Alaska, the recommendation is for a one-fish bag limit with a reverse slot limit — a retained fish must be smaller than 44 inches or longer than 76 inches.

The council also is recommending that charter operators be limited to one trip per day for 3A.

The council will recommend those management measures to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The commission is the international body tasked with managing halibut along the Pacific coast, from Northern California to the Bering Sea under the Pacific Halibut Treaty with Canada.

Regulations for unguided sport and subsistence fishermen are not expected to change.

The commission will meet in January to set the 2014 halibut catch limit, and approve management measures to keep anglers within the limits. In the past, the commission has generally accepted the North Pacific council’s recommendations, although the regulations could change depending on the final catch limit the commission selects.

Those regulations were devised by the council’s charter implementation committee, a body made up largely of charter operators and are based on the current preliminary catch limit, which could change.

Seward charter operator Andy Mezirow, who presented the Southcentral limits to the council, said the one-trip per day limit for operators would primarily affect Cook Inlet guides.

Richard Yamada, a Southeast Alaska charter operator, told the council that annual limits also were considered. For Southeast, such a limit would have have been too low to be practical, and would have been especially onerous for lodge owners.

Mezirow said that an annual limit wouldn’t have worked well for Southcentral, either.

Mezirow said the one trip per day limit was seen as one of the most effective ways to keep the catch within the limits and also maintain a two-fish limit.

The recommendations are all based on a 1.78 million pounds catch limit for Southcentral charter harvest and a 760,000-pound catch limit for Southeast Alaska. Both are reductions compared to the 2013 catch limits, although the Southeast cut is relatively small compared to the 788,000-pound limit this year. The Southcentral allocation in 2013 was 2.73 million pounds.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has said that the new catch sharing plan would be implemented in 2014. That means the charter catch is calculated from a combined catch limit that applies to both the commercial and charter sectors.

The exact commercial-charter split varies from year to year, depending on abundance. Generally, the charter sector takes a larger portion of the catch at times of low abundance.

Under the “blue-line” catch limit estimates announced Dec. 4, coastwide total removals would be about 36.4 million pounds, with a commercial halibut harvest of about 24.5 million pounds for 2014.

That could mean about 18.74 million pounds for Alaska, down from about 22 million pounds in 2013, although it’s hard to make a direct comparison due to a change in how the numbers are calculated now.

The halibut commission will decide in January whether or not to stick with the 18.74 million pound limit, or to adjust it. Last year, it was raised from the preliminary estimate, but still represented an overall cut from the year prior.

If the commission chooses a higher limit, the management measures may be liberalized. For Southcentral Alaska, that would likely mean operators could take more than one trip per day. If the catch limit increases more than that, the size limit on the second fish could be adjusted.

For anglers in Southeast, that would also likely mean an adjustment to the size limit for their catch under the slot limit, likely first to slightly increase the limit at the lower end, and then to adjust the top limit downward.

For 2014, the reduced limits stem from an overall reduction in the halibut catch limit expected for 2013. IPHC’s Ian Stewart, the quantitative scientist tasked with doing the halibut stock assessment, said the stock seems to be at a low point in abundance, but that trend may have flattened out.

Like charter operators, Southcentral commercial halibut fishermen could see a cut in their catch for 2014 as a result of the stock status, while Southeast commercial fishermen will get an increase for the second straight year.

The commercial portion of the catch is about 3.32 million pounds for 2C, and 7.32 million pounds for 3A.

The commercial component of the limit is divvied amongst individual fishing quota, or IFQ, holders. The National Marine Fisheries Service determines individual catch limits for each quota holder, and tracks their catch to ensure it isn’t exceeded.