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Catch limit cuts alarm halibut fisheries

HOMER -- This Kenai Peninsula town's halibut fishing community is alarmed at a decision that could set catch limits at one fish per person.

Low halibut stocks led the International Pacific Halibut Commission to consider cutting combined commercial fishing catches by 17 percent in 2012. Guided sport fisheries saw a catch-limit decline of 15 percent.

A final decision will be made at the commission's Jan. 24-27 meetings in Anchorage, the Homer News reported.

"What I see that's probably most important is it just throws everything out," said Buck Laukitis, a longtime Homer commercial halibut fisherman and president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association, a fishing advocacy group. "There is no status quo now. That news from the (commission) is going to rock everybody's world."

The decision, made Dec. 2 in Seattle, set off alarms in Homer's commercial and sport-fishing communities.

"Commercially or charter wise, I can't see how there can be any winners next year," said Homer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Monte Davis. "For Homer in general, this is not good news."

Homer's maritime and fish processing sectors are supported by sport- and commercial-caught halibut. Fishermen have watched for years as weight and size relative to age of the stock have declined.

In 2010, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimated the area's charter catch was 2.7 million pounds. The International Pacific Halibut Commission estimates the 2011 charter catch will be 2.84 million pounds.

Both numbers are below the 2011 guideline harvest level of 3.65 million pounds and the recommended 2012 guideline level of 3.1 million pounds.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in Anchorage this week to decide on its recommendations to the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Greg Sutter, president of the Alaska Charter Association, said he hopes the North Pacific Fishery Management Council can come up with a halibut management plan that will satisfy both charter and commercial fishermen.

"I've got a positive outlook," he said. "Once there's a good plan developed, it will diminish a lot of the animosity we see, especially coming out of (Homer). I've got a lot of friends who are commercial fishermen and I want it to remain that way."



Associated Press