Southeast halibut fishermen can look forward to higher catch limits and a 8.5-month fishing season in 2004. The International Pacific Halibut Commission set the season and the allocations Friday in Juneau during the conclusion of its annual meeting.
The commission, which sets regulations for Canadian and American halibut fishermen in the Pacific halibut fishery, allocated 10.5 million pounds to the Southeast fishery, up from 8.5 million pounds last year.
The halibut commission staff had recommended an allocation of 11.3 million pounds for Southeast, but the commissioners said they didn't want to approve such a large jump and would rather be cautious.
"We're just being conservative," said U.S. commissioner Ralph Hoard. "In any one area, to go up 33 percent is a concern. We've always had the policy of slow ups and fast downs."
Petersburg halibut fisherman Alan Otness said the 24 percent increase was a start, but he was disappointed the allocation had not been raised to 11.3 million pounds.
"There's such a difference between where we're at and where we need to be," Otness said.
Research data has shown there is more halibut in Southeast than in the past, commission Executive Director Bruce Leaman said. He said the increase also might be due to accumulation resulting from low harvest allocations.
The commission set the total allocation for Alaska, Canada, Washington, Oregon and California at 76.5 million pounds for 2004, up from 74.9 million pounds in 2003.
The season will run from Feb. 29 to Nov. 15. Last year it ran from March 1 to Nov. 15. Fishermen have been pushing for a longer season, hoping to stem the growth of halibut farming by providing fresh, wild halibut year-round.
Leaman said a year-round season is unlikely to be approved because the fishery requires about a five-week downtime for administrative issues.
Canadian commissioner John Secord said Canadian fishermen are concerned about the effects of halibut migration on a longer season. During the winter, when there usually is no halibut fishing, some of the fish migrate south from Alaska to British Columbia. If the season is extended, those fish, which are normally caught in British Columbia, would be caught earlier in Alaska.
"Perhaps there is research that needs to be done to actually determine how much fish migrate," Secord said.
The commission staff released a report earlier this week noting that a 10.5-month season would be easier to implement than a year-round season. The commission has not received a proposal to alter the length of the season.
Masha Herbst can be reached at email@example.com.