The International Pacific Halibut Commission has agreed on reductions to catch limits in most of the halibut fishing areas in Alaska.
Bruce Leaman Executive Director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission says the cuts are necessary. ”Yes, they are severe; they are following on the heels of some fairly significant declines over the last four or five years"
Only two halibut fishing regions will see a rise in their catch allocation. One of those areas is Southeast Alaska, which the Commission agreed to increase from 2.3 to 2.6 million pounds. This is because the Commission says the fall in halibut numbers in Southeast stabilized in 2011. However, that’s not a cause for celebration, as coastal-wide data shows a continued decline.
One area that it’s feared will be severely hit by the reduction in catch limit is St. Paul. Commercial fishermen there say communities have hard times to look forward to as the Commission voted to cut the catch from 1.69 million pounds to 1.1 million.
Rena Kudrin’s family has been fishing halibut for 22 years in St. Paul.
”I've seen it go up and down, and I've seen the abundance at one time; now I see the decline in it. It's going to affect a lot of families out there, so I hope everyone has saved and prepared for this," Kudrin said.
And it’s not just St. Paul – statewide, the halibut fishery will be bringing in less fish this season – including in the Southcentral region, which will see a loss of more than two-plus million pounds.
Roland Maw of Kasilof is executive director of United Cook Inlet Drift Association. Maw says some fishermen will have more problems than others. "So those fisherman who are multi-species fisherman – halibut, salmon, crab, cod, black cod – they will have a little resistance because those stocks are doing well, but those that are unique individually halibut-based fisherman, they're going to have an inordinate amount of problems dealing with this," he said.
Commercial fishing fleets in Southcentral say they aren’t happy about the cut, but they understand it’s necessary if the halibut stock is going to survive.
“If these stocks weren't in steep decline I wouldn't be supporting it because then it becomes an allocation issue, but this isn't an allocation issue – these stocks are in trouble," Maw said.
Maw says cutbacks in other areas will have to be made and personal lives will be affected.
"On the vessel we are going to do delayed maintenance so engines will not get replaced," Maw said. "The individuals that are going to take a little bit of a harder hit are those who are highly financed with loans on boats and individual fishing quota."
The other significant change the Commission agreed to today affects the charter sports fishery industry in Southeast. The existing regulation of one fish per person of a maximum size of 37 inches will be changed so people can now catch one halibut that is less than 45 inches or more than 68 inches.
Even though there will be some financial pain ahead, many in the industry say they agree with the science that has driven the drastic cuts, data that indicates a continued decrease in the size of halibut being harvested, as well as overall numbers.
The commercial halibut season in Alaska begins on March 17.