Preliminary results based on word-of-mouth from charter skippers and sport fishermen indicate that 2018 has been a pretty good year so far for catching decent size halibut. In the Icy Strait/Glacier Bay area, guided boats are releasing a lot of fish in the reverse slot range of 38 inches (19 pounds) to 80 inches (208 pounds). This year, I’m seeing some nice 50 to 100 pound fish which is quite different from past years when I’ve fished all day and felt lucky to limit out with 15-20 pound fish. And, it’s kind of weird to anchor in a spot and catch small fish all day long then all of a sudden hook a “barn door’ size fish. It seems like there are more of those around now too. My boat has hooked one over 200 pounds every year for the last three years.
I’m hoping the catch size on halibut will show up in the data shared at the 2019 International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) meetings and some reasonable decisions will be made for next year’s harvest. We’re due for some good news on regulations for a change.
Dock at El Capitan Cave, Prince of Wales Island
Entering El Capitan Passage, Prince of Wales Island
This Memorial Day I have someone special to remember–the grandfather I never met. In fact, I had never known much of anything about Fred Harmon Cooper, the person after whom I am named. He was presumably divorced from my grandmother and lived in Seattle. One rumor was that he worked as a Union Boss on the waterfront, a tough job in any seaport town.
Upon having a recent DNA test, I was surprised to hear from distant relatives in Michigan. What was more surprising was what they told me. They were grandchildren of Fred’s brother and had a lot more information about him, including pictures.
Thus to my reason to proudly honor him this Memorial Day. Fred Harmon Cooper served in World War I as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was in one of the most notable battles in which the Marines have ever been engaged–the month-long Battle of Belleau Wood in France. 474 Marines died in that battle that occurred 100 years ago this June.
Knowledge of Fred Harmon Cooper’s service marks four generations of Cooper’s who have served their country in the U.S. Armed Forces—Fred in the Marine Corps, my father in the Coast Guard, which was assigned to the Navy during WWII, myself on active duty as a Captain in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and my son Andrew in the Air Force during the first Iraq War. Give them a salute and a big Hooah.
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.