The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates groundfish in Alaska and other federal fisheries, is gearing up for its annual meeting next week, and the halibut charter industry will be a hot topic.
New restrictions have been placed on charter operators in recent years such as no fishing on Wednesdays and other select days during the summer season. The Charter Halibut Committee, which makes recommendations for the council to consider, asked for those regulations to remain the same this year, but that could change.
Council analyst and protective species coordinator Steve McLane said scientists from the International Pacific Halibut Commission, with regulates catch limits for the bottom fish, say numbers of young halibut seem to be dropping.
“The interim numbers from the IPHC look to be a decline in abundance. It’s likely that management measures would need to be modified to meet that expected abundance level and then what the allocations would be as a result of those lower numbers,” McLane explained.
The council is also set to discuss whether to track the number of anglers renting boats to fish for halibut. Anglers who rent unguided vessels are allowed two fish of any size per day rather than the more restrictive limits set on charter customers.
McLane explained that some in the industry say that’s a problem.
“They feel that these folks if they are staying at a lodge and getting some information from the lodge owners and renting a boat, they feel that should actually be considered guided fishing rather than unguided fishing,” he said.
The council also plans to explore using trip limits for halibut charter permit holders as regulatory tool if the industry grows.
Catch limits for other groundfish such cod and sable fish will also be set next week. Large changes are expected to be made in the Gulf of Alaska cod fishery after surveys showed a 70 percent decline over the past two years.
The meeting runs Dec. 4 through the 12.