New regulations on the Gulf of Alaska halibut charter industry could reduce the number of days operators are able to spend on the water.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates the charter industry in the Gulf and Southeast Alaska, unanimously approved shutting down fishing on seven Tuesdays between June 19 and Aug. 21 at its annual meeting Thursday.
Recent surveys show that halibut stocks from California to Alaska dropped about 24 percent in 2017. Regulators are expected to reduce how many fish charter and commercial fishermen are allowed to catch later this winter.
Council members also considered a one-fish bag limit and additional size restrictions because of the drop in halibut numbers. Council member Andy Mezirow said closing the fishery on select days was the best option.
“I chose these measures because analysis shows that the other options have a greater amount of uncertainty to their effectiveness and have the potential to even increase the harvest,” Mezirow explained.
Several restrictions have been placed on Gulf of Alaska charter boats in recent years, including no fishing on Wednesdays and three Tuesdays during the ladder part of the season.
Ben Martin runs his boat for North Country Charters in Homer, and Martin was one of many operators to testify in favor of additional closures.
“We have been able to find things to do on the closed days. We can target other species, go whale watching, take a maintenance day,” he said. “However, I don’t think we can sell an inferior product like a slot limit. People just won’t pay to go fishing. I would rather sell a full boat five days a week rather than trying to get by at two-thirds capacity six days a week.”
A few charter business owners spoke in favor reducing the daily limit to one fish. Currently, charter customers are allowed to keep two fish per day with one required to be under 28 inches. Marvin Grove owns Alaskan Adventure Unlimited in Valdez, and he said reducing the number of days charters can fish will bring fewer people to town and hurt other businesses.
“We’ve been playing Russian roulette with our port and the management measures. Two years ago we added a round to the chamber with the Wednesday closure and now we want to put a second round in the chamber and spin the dial,” Grove said. “Economically, this is killing our town. Nobody makes money when a boat is tied up at the dock.”
The management council proposes a range of regulations to keep charters within their allocations for the year.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which will set those allocations in January, will chose regulations based on those numbers. If stock assessments improve and the allowable catch shifts above or drops below what’s expected, the commission will be able to adjust the number of days fishing is closed accordingly