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2015 Halibut Harvest Guidelines Are In – or – David and Goliath, Trawlers win?

Well guys, it’s official.

The 2015 Halibut Harvest Guidelines have been released by the IPHC (International Pacific Halibut Commission).  There are some new rules this year!

First of all, carried over from 2014 is the 1 halibut of any size, 1 halibut under 29″ rule.  This means that if we limit out, one of the fish is required to be smaller.  We’re fortunate in area 3A to not be limited to 1 halibut per person, like in some areas of the state.   Also, the crew of the boat are not allowed to retain halibut themselves – this is an effort to reduce overall catch by the charter fleet by not allowing the captain and deckhand as crew members to retain halibut. Additionally, only 1 halibut charter per day may take place on a charter boat – making half day trips impossible.

What’s new, is that no Halibut may be harvested on Thursdays, and only 5 halibut may be harvested on a charter vessel per person per year.  That means if you’re fishing for 3 days, and you limit out each day, you’re only allowed to keep 1 fish the 3rd day.  Guys – be careful! If you go fishing in area 3A before or during your visit to Seward and you caught halibut – don’t over harvest! The captain of your charter boat won’t have any way of knowing if you’ve been fishing elsewhere in the state, and the Alaska State Troopers as well as NOAA are out there issuing tickets for violations.

You can read up on the rules yourself HERE.

The sad part is that more halibut will be thrown away by 16 commercial trawlers operating in the Bering Sea as bycatch while fishing for cod and pollock than will be legally harvested by the entire commercial fishing fleet.  These massive trawlers aren’t targeting halibut, or king salmon but they can’t help but catch it, and once they do, it’s illegal for them to keep it as trawling isn’t an approved method to catch a halibut.  The fish is then thrown over the side, often crushed and dead from the massive strain experienced in the net.  The outfall is that the commercial fishing fleet, and the commercial sport fishing fleet (charter boats) are forced to regulate our industry harvest to protect the resource.  Those men and women working to catch halibut properly so you can find it in your supermarket or at the restaurant down the street also suffer from this extreme waste.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s politics – the expected bycatch from trawling is greater than the allocated halibut quota for commercial fishermen. Don’t even ask about the king salmon bycatch – not a good conversation. They will literally throw away more fish than the commercial fleet is allowed to harvest. You can either stop eating fish sticks, or you can write a letter to the IPHC and NMFS, who work to regulate and maintain the resource.  This is a federal issue, and your opinion matters.  Alaska has arguably the most progressively managed fish and wildlife resources in the United States, and this is allowed to happen in our state by outside interests not because it makes sense, but because of money, influence, and the right people in the right places.

These are fish, they don’t belong to anyone – we have the privilege of trying to catch them using what (if you think about it) is a ridiculous method.  We put a piece of bait the size of a piece of bread on a single hook, and drop it to the bottom of the ocean in the middle of nowhere, and miraculously something bites it.  If we’re lucky, it gets hooked. If we’re even luckier, we don’t have the drag set too tight, don’t horse it in, don’t have a gear failure, and don’t lose it trying to get it in the boat.   If cars had this many variables associated with starting them, we’d all ride bikes.

The men and women who commercially target and harvest halibut for your local supermarket or restaurant also perform this magic dance – however with slightly more fervor. They don’t own the fish either – they own the right to try to catch it, and sell it by the pound – which they paid for.  There’s no guarantee they’ll succeed – and what’s happening is their quotas which they’ve paid for are being cut back due to the wasted bycatch of the trawling fleet.  They even threatened to shut down the Bering Sea halibut fishery, which has sustained rural native communities forever.

I guess the point I’m trying to make isn’t “end all fishing for halibut” or “commercial fishermen are the problem” it’s “commercial trawling wastes more fish than we all catch or are allowed to catch – combined” and it’s done by 16 boats owned by 5 companies that aren’t even Alaskan based.

There are solutions to these issues, but there aren’t enough people arguing for them. Talk to your local fishing clubs and charter organizations, write your letters and share your findings on social media – people need to know what’s happening up here before it’s too late!

Take a second to check out this article by Fishermen’s News, a publication for commercial fishermen. Following the body of the article there are instructions on whom to contact to send letters and information – it’s based on Washington’s own representatives, but you can get the idea.