Halibut regulations updated for charters

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has provided clarification on recent revisions to regulations for halibut charter fishermen.

In part of his response to the arrival of the novel coronavirus in Alaska in March, Gov. Mike Dunleavy implemented ravel restrictions that made any visitors to the state quarantine for 14 days before moving about and between communities. This was recently amended to a requirement that visitors, like tourists, be tested for COVID-19 before arriving in the state, or tested at the Ted Stevens International Airport.

When the travel restrictions were more strict, worry abounded within the halibut charter industry about how to get more Alaska residents to hit the water this summer in place of the normal tourist crowd. In response to requests and proposal from industry stakeholders, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council met on May 15 to discuss proposed changes to regulations for halibut charters, and the International Pacific Halibut Commission met on May 20.

The resulting approved regulation revisions are laid out in a document released by NOAA Fisheries on Monday. The revised regulations took effect Monday and last for the duration of 2020.

In Area 3A (Southcentral Alaska) there is still a two-fish bag limit for anglers aboard a charter. Revised regulations, however, removed the annual limit on the number of halibut a person can catch on charters for this year.

“Anglers are no longer required to record halibut caught on charter vessel fishing trips in Area 3A on the back of the fishing license or on a harvest record card,” the NOAA document states.

Additionally, there are no more closed fishing days for charters in Area 3A — anglers can catch halibut on all days of the week. Of the two halibut anglers are allowed to retain in one day, one can be no larger than 32 inches in length. The second halibut retained can be of any size.

For area 2A, anglers may only retain one halibut per day. That one fish must be either 45 inches or smaller, or 80 inches or longer.

“This reverse slot limit allows anglers to keep halibut less than approximately 43 pounds and greater than 276 pounds, round weight,” the NOAA document states.

Full regulations for both management areas can be found at fisheries.noaa.gov/alaska/resources-fishing/sport-halibut-fishing-alaska.

The revised regulations would have boded well for this year’s first ever Homer Halibut Tournament, which was created to replace the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, but the tournament was canceled on Thursday.

The Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center and Halibut Tournament Committee have decided to cancel the event, which was scheduled for July 2-3 at the Homer Harbor. It has been rescheduled for June 4-5, 2021, according to a press release from the chamber.

“This is just not the right year to launch the first Homer Halibut Tournament,” Homer Chamber Board President Tom Soderholm is quoted as saying in the press release. “Even though this was designed to be mainly a virtual event with most of the time out on the open waters of Kachemak Bay, many of our regular tournament participants did not feel safe with any public gatherings. This seems to follow a trend across the country where fishing tournaments are not generating much interest this year.”

Chamber priorities must be focused on keeping the community safe and aiding Homer businesses where possible, Chamber Executive Director Brad Anderson said in the press release.

This article has been updated to remove previous information about the first Homer Halibut Tournament, which was canceled Thursday after original publication of this story.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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