Cuts to halibut catch proposed for Southeast

The International Pacific Halibut Commission is preparing for its annual meeting beginning Monday, Jan. 23. While things seem to have stabilized, there are still some areas expected to go down, most notably Area 2C in Southeast Alaska, where the plan is to reduce the catch by nearly 18 percent. Area 2C rose 6 percent last season.

The annual meeting also is where the commission decides on regulatory proposals and reviews comments submitted by fishermen and stakeholders on proposals and catch limits.

Area 2C stakeholders had the most to say in the catch limit comments, with six of the eight comments submitted coming from that area, and reflect anecdotal reports of strong catch rates and larger fish in that area than have been seen in many years.

A number of Southeast fishing groups and processors submitted a combined comment saying that the proposed drop in 2C is basically a reapportionment from there to 3A, Central Gulf of Alaska, and should not be done.

The groups state that “Area 2C stocks are increasing at current harvest rates; survey (weight per unit of effort, or WPUE) is higher than any other IPHC area coastwide; and reductions in Area 2C catch limits are not justified by current data or trends.”

Robert Mosher, a commercial longliner in 2C, complains of being punished by yet another “new model,” referring to the IPHC’s penchant for changing stock forecasting models every two or three years. He calls for a 10 percent increase in 2C.

James Whitehorn of the West Brothers Group in Petersburg said the group is concerned for the ecosystem in Southeast due to an over-abundance of halibut.

He said brown king crab and red king crab are disappearing, “and now we are finding halibut with full size (Dungeness) crab in their stomachs.”

Materials distributed at the interim meeting showed an 11 percent increase in 2C WPUE in the survey and an 8 percent increase in the fishery from 2015.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers also submitted a report for the annual meeting from their Joint Enforcement Agreement with NOAA/NMFS.

Wildlife troopers made 987 dockside contacts with IFQ vessels statewide, including boarding 263 boats. That resulted in 12 state violations and 26 that were referred to NOAA.

State violations included such items as crewmembers not having licenses and gear not properly marked.

Federal violations included having crab pots on board and logbook violations.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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