Big catches to get smaller

Halibut commission recommends lower catch limits

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006


  Recommended catch limits for commercially caught halibut is dropping this year. Clarion file photo

Recommended catch limits for commercially caught halibut is dropping this year.

Clarion file photo

The International Pacific Halibut Commission has issued its recommended catch limit for 2006, a limit that dips 5.37 percent below the catch limit recommended in 2005.

The total recommended catch limit for the Pacific coast, including Canadian and U.S. fisheries, is 69.86 million pounds, and for the central gulf region of Alaska 25.2 million pounds.Last year the commission recommended a catch limit of 25.47 million pounds for the central gulf region.

“It’s just a slight decrease from last year,” said Gregg Williams, program manager for research and management for the commission.

Although there is an overall downward trend in halibut stocks, the commission reported that halibut stocks remain generally healthy in the central gulf region of Alaska, which includes Cook Inlet.

In addition, long-line surveys conducted in the central gulf region in 2005 and 2004 found healthy numbers of juvenile halibut, approximately 8 years of age, suggesting catches will remain good for the next couple of years, Williams said.

Halibut are typically close to 10 years of age before they are big enough to meet the minimum catch size of 32 inches, he said.

Halibut numbers tend to remain strong in the central gulf region because it is at the center of the halibut’s rage and provides ideal halibut habitat, he said.

“It’s were halibut like to hang out,” he said.

According to the commission, the amount of Pacific-coast halibut bycatch caught by other fisheries in 2005, dipped down to its lowest level since 1987. But it remains high nonetheless.

Last year other fisheries caught approximately 12 million pounds of halibut, Williams said.

Most of the bycatch is caught in cod fisheries.

“Cod and halibut tend to co-mingle quite a bit,” he said.

Other recommended regulation changes for 2006 include an updated system for recording halibut landings.

The commission’s regulations will be revised to allow fishermen in Alaska to record halibut landings using an Internet-based system.

“It gets away from the paper ticketing approach,” Williams said. “It’s just a more efficient way to tabulate landing data.”

In addition to recommended regulation changes for 2006 the commission has also made plans for a $250,000 study that will conduct the first long-line survey of halibut in the Bearing Sea flats.

The study will measure the area’s halibut distribution and biomass, and help complete the commission’s overall knowledge of the halibut fishery.

“It’s all part of the big ecosystem,” Williams said. “It behooves us to know what’s going on out there.”

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