Commercial fishermen face 26% decrease in halibut limit

Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Commercial halibut fishermen facing a 26 percent cut in their catch limit next season are calling on the agency that manages the fishery to stop overharvest by another group.

The Halibut Coalition wants the National Marine Fisheries Service to use its emergency authority to curb any potential overharvest by the charter sector in 2010, said President Linda Behnken, who also acts as executive director of the Alaska Long Line Fishermen's Association.

Behnken said a recently upheld court decision to limit charter boats to one fish per client instead of two "makes it abundantly clear that NMFS has both the authority and the responsibility to manage the guided sport sector to their allocation."

The charter sport industry has exceeded catch limits set on it every year since 2004. Last season, it overfished by about a half million pounds.

The Halibut Coalition wants the managing agency to limit the number of charter operators and enforce the one-fish bag limit.

Behnken said the groups also want the agency to look into the effects of high-grading, where smaller fish are turned loose in favor of large ones.

"We saw a big increase in the size of halibut retained in 2009," she said. "There's mortality associated with catching a fish and turning them loose."

The Juneau Charter Boat Operators Association couldn't be reached Monday for comment.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission staff announced harvest recommendations last week.

The commercial quota for Area 2C in Southeast is likely to be cut from 5,020,000 pounds last year to 3,710,000 pounds - a 26 percent reduction.

Cuts in the commercial halibut quota of 65 percent over the past four years are due to declines in the number of fish estimated to be in the waters. Commercial fishermen recognize fewer fish must be taken in order to allow the species to rebuild, but they want charters to catch fewer fish, too, Behnken said.

The catch limit is set by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which will make a final determination at a meeting in Seattle next month.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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