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Halibut season opens this week with lower catch limits than last year

Photo: NOAA Fisheries
Photo: NOAA Fisheries

Catch limits for Pacific halibut are 10.3% lower than last year across all user groups – including commercial and recreational fishermen. Altogether, they’re allowed to catch 36.97 million pounds of halibut overall, which is about 4.2 million pounds less than last year.

Kurt Iverson is a fishery management specialist with NOAA Fisheries. He says that doesn’t tell the whole story; it wasn’t a drop in catch limits for all areas.

“There were significant drops in individual areas,” said Iverson.

The stock assessment showed different rates of declines across the fishery. But the Lower 48 actually saw higher numbers than last year and no cuts to its catch limits. Alaska’s fishery, however, saw cuts across the board.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission sets catch limits and completes the yearly stock assessment in cooperation with the U.S. and Canada. The fishery includes California, Oregon and Washington; British Columbia in Canada; and waters along Alaska’s coastline from Southeast out the Aleutian Chain – plus the Pribilof Islands.

Harvest limits for the Central Gulf of Alaska, which is the largest fishing area by volume and includes most of the fishing grounds off Kodiak Island, are about 17% lower than last year.

According to NOAA, 95% of halibut is landed in Alaska; in 2021, the state’s commercial fishery was worth more than $115 million. There are 2,234 unique halibut quota share holders in Alaska.

Iverson said biologists and fishery managers had a number of concerns going into this year – starting with the fishery’s performance last year.

“The catch per unit of effort was the lowest historic performance we’ve seen,” said Iverson.

Catch per unit effort, or CPUE, which is one indicator of how much halibut there is to catch, was down 15% last year.

Iverson says that’s partly because the fishery is mostly relying on stocks of fish from two strong halibut years: 2012 and 2005.

“Now those fish from 2005, they’re 17 years old right now, and they are aging out, he said. “And the year classes between 2012 and 2005, were relatively small.”

Iverson says biologists and managers don’t have a crystal ball, but as older fish age out of the fishery, most are looking cautiously at the years ahead.

Halibut season runs from March 10 through early December.