The Bristol Bay commercial halibut fishery opens Sunday – but that’s not the only opportunity to catch halibut locally.
Halibut management throughout Alaska relies on a mix of state, federal and international rules, and Bristol Bay is no different, with sport, subsistence and commercial fisheries here.
The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation oversees the local small boat halibut fishery, which opens May 1 this year. More than two dozen fishermen are eligible to participate, and they’ll have access to 115,000 pounds of halibut. That’s a significant increase from last year’s 74,000 pounds.
BBEDC Fisheries Quota Manager Anne Vanderhoeven said there are a couple reasons for the change – the stock is doing well and other Bering Sea fishermen are catching less halibut incidentally.
BBEDC also has halibut quota in other parts of the Bering Sea. Larger boats catch that fish, and will likely get started next month as the fresh market gets going, Vanderhoeven said.
But the subsistence and sport fisheries are open for most of the year. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game helps oversees the sport fishery. Area Management Biologist Jason Dye said that fishery covers a wide area.
“Basically from Cape Newenham all the way down to Cape Meshnikoff, south of Ugashik. All of the saltwaters in that area,” he said. “Anywhere you would catch a halibut in that area, the same regulations would apply to unguided anglers: two per day, four in possession.”
That’s the ADFG regulation for sport fishermen all around Alaska. But the guided halibut fishery is regulated federally, and in some parts of the state, have lower limits. In the Bering Sea, including Bristol Bay, guided anglers have that same limit as unguided fishermen.
Guided or not, Dye said sport fishing here is pretty quiet.
“There’s so little that’s been going on here that, it’s just not that accessible for people like in skiffs and stuff,” he said. “You’ve gotta go out there and it’s rough. There is a little bit though. I know a few people go out there and sport fish. I think most of them are operating under that SHARC card to go subsistence.”
For Area 4E, which includes the parts of Bristol Bay that are open to fishing, the subsistence harvest is unlimited for those who have that Subsistence Halibut Registration Card (SHARC). Farther out in Areas 4A and 4B, subsistence fishermen are limited to 20 fish per day.
But there is a limit on who can participate. Under the federal rules, individuals must either live in certain rural communities (including those in Bristol Bay) or be members of eligible Alaska Native Tribes to apply for a SHARC. There’s no deadline to apply for those, although it can take a couple weeks for an application to get processed.