In the poll question from the week of Feb. 6, I believe the Clarion asked the wrong question. The right question is: “How can the halibut fishery be sustained for the long term?” There IS room for halibut sport catches, charter boat catches, and commercial catches, if a little common sense is used by the halibut fishery regulators.
A fact to recognize is that all halibut which exceed about 80 pounds in weight are females the carriers of the eggs from which little halibut come. I have fished for halibut in Alaska for only 21 years but, in that time, the incidence of consistently catching bigger fish (greater than 40 pounds) is diminishing, unless one wants to take much longer boat trips to less fished areas to catch them. In fact, I have never caught a halibut over 80 pounds.
So, if I were king for a day, here’s what I would do to sustain our halibut fisheries, by regulation:
1. Discontinue statewide ALL halibut derbies based on largest caught. These derbies encourage “highgrading” (retaining biggest) sport-caught fish. These derbies would be replaced by assigning a predetermined specific, exact weight (pounds and ounces, less than 80 pounds) to the winning fish, much like the date and time is specified for the winner of the Nenana River ice thaw lottery. Another option would be to tag a number of winning fish. This would encourage retaining more fish under 80 pounds. It is probable there would be more derby winners to share the derby prizes.
2. Continue the daily bag limit of two per day but impose a season limit of four per person, with his or her catch recorded on a license or harvest card, as we do now for king salmon. Four halibut per person per season should be enough. An incentive would be provided to recognize people who release large fish, similar to what is done for billfish in other environs and Kenai River king salmon.
3. Quotas for the commercial fishery would be capped at the 2005 levels, quotas could not be bought and sold, AND bycatch would be made part of the quotas. The capped, non-negotiable quotas would be, in effect, a form of limited entry. And making bycatch a part of the quotas would discourage “highgrading” the catch, as is done in the pollock fisheries.
4. Lastly, Alaskans would be given the responsibility to manage their fisheries to assure their constitutional rights of equal access. At the moment, the regulator’s system of allocation seems to be somewhat biased, and certainly not visionary about sustaining the fishery.
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