Well, the halibut regulations for SE Alaska waters are finally available and after some rather historic deliberations are pretty much the same as 2017. That is, if you are a non-guided sport fisherman. You are not so lucky if you are a commercial fisherman with an IFQ or fishing on a guided charter. The 2018 catch for commercial and guided charters in Region 2C, which is all of SE Alaska, has been reduced by 15.2%. Like a lot of people, I can’t understand the reason for the reduction when the catch size has been steadily improving for several years. Apparently, there is still some concern for the health and abundance of harvestable halibut stock.
What was interesting, when this year’s annual (IPHC International Pacific Halibut Commission) meeting was over January 26th, was no consensus being reached for catch limits. So for only the second time in 94 years, the United States and Canada went ahead with their own management plans. NOAA Fisheries stated they intended to be consistent with the limits and measures proposed by U.S. Commissioners at the IPHC meeting. Thus, their issuance of a rule with levels lower than 2017 and incorporating tighter charter management measures.
The NOAA Interim Final Rule revises regulations applicable to the charter halibut fisheries in Area 2C (Southeast Alaska) is as follows: Charter operators will have a one fish daily bag limit, with a reverse slot limit that allows retention of halibut under 38 inches, or greater than 80 inches, with no annual limit. Note, Charter vessel operators who choose to participate in the GAF (Guided Angler Fish) program can allow their clients to retain two fish per day.
For non-guided sport fisherman, the daily bag limit is the same as 2017 or two Pacific halibut of any size per day per person unless a more restrictive bag limit applies and no person may possess more than two daily bag limits. The rules for filleting, possession, and transporting processed halibut are particularly important and all fishermen should be aware of these rules and use common sense and comply. The fines are hefty and enforcement can be multiple state and federal agencies. Ignorance of the NOAA rules, which are not published with the Alaska Fish and Game regulations, will not get you “off the hook.” If you’re looking for the latter, they are supposed to be published the end of March.