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Alaska halibut fishermen granted quota increase

JUNEAU — Fishermen in Alaska will have access to slightly more halibut this year than last.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission voted Friday in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a total catch in Alaska of 21.215 million pounds, up from 19.705 million pounds in 2014. That's the first time in a decade the commission has increased the catch.

The six-member panel meets annually to set the halibut catch limits from Northern California to the Bering Sea. There are three commissioners from the U.S. and three from Canada.

The Alaska catch limit is divided among several areas and includes commercial and charter halibut sectors, as well as their wastage. The commission accounts for subsistence- and sport-caught halibut, but doesn't limit it.

The uptick means commercial fishermen in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska will see slight quota increases.

Bering Sea halibut fishermen will have the same allotment as last year. The commission considered decreasing it based on stock status and bycatch, but other commercial fishermen agreed to voluntarily reduce their bycatch. Federal managers for Alaska also said they will look at a regulatory reduction in the near future, so the commission agreed not to make another cut.

Charter anglers will not see relaxed regulations, because the management measures implemented in 2014 resulted in the sector catching more than its allotment.

In Southcentral ports, including Seward, Homer and Valdez, fishermen on charter boats will be allowed to catch two fish per day, with the second fish limited to 29 inches or less. There will also be a five-fish annual bag limit for charter anglers, and charters will not operate on Thursdays.

Charter anglers in Southeast ports, including Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, will be limited to one fish per day, which must be 42 inches or smaller, or 80 inches or larger.

Sport and charter halibut fishing opens Sunday. The commercial fishery will open March 14.

The total coastwide halibut limit is 29.223 million pounds, up from 27.515 million pounds in 2014.