Halibut have hit the docks in Dillingham. The 4-E halibut fishery opened on May 1, and the first fish was landed on May 14.
Bristol Bay fishermen have landed 8,700 pounds of halibut so far. This year’s quota for area 4-E is 33,900 pounds, significantly less than last year’s quota of 58,800 pounds.
“It is a reduction,” said Gary Cline, the regional fisheries director at BBEDC. “It’s basically because there appears to be less halibut abundance in the Pacific, not just in area 4-E, but stretching down to southeast and throughout the Bering Sea. And, because of this concern, the regulatory agencies have adopted a more restrictive catch limits for 2018.”
Those regulatory agencies include the National Marine Fisheries Service, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, and the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
The decrease in halibut could stem from a variety of factors, including fishing efforts, competition for the same prey by other species such as the Arrowtooth flounder, and water temperature.
In order to better understand the effects of water temperature on halibut, BBEDC implemented a regulation last year that requires halibut fishermen to deploy a Hobo Temperature Logger with their longline gear.
“It’s calibrated to take temperature every hour, and then we can set it at different intervals. The intent of it is to monitor water temperature within Bristol Bay, and to see if water temperature really correlates with halibut abundance and harvest rates within the region,” said Cline.
Cline does not expect this year's lower quota to negatively impact fishermen participating in the industry.
“We do have some quota in area 4-D, which is further off-shore, also known as the northwestern Bering Sea. If our fleet catches the quota in 4-E, essentially they could fish some of the quota we have in 4-D,” said Cline.
Area 4-E Fishery participants must be verified residents of communities in the BBEDC Community Development Quota. Ten fishermen are currently participating. That is fewer than applied to participate before the season began, so Cline expects that more may join the effort in the coming weeks. The fleet will likely continue fishing for halibut until commercial salmon fishing begins.
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