IPHC Adopts 2017 Guided Sport Bag Limits
The International Pacific Halibut Commission concluded its week-long annual meeting in Victoria, B.C. today, and approved 2017 catch limits and proposed regulations for Alaskan, Canadian and Lower-48 fisheries.
In Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, the IPHC approved catch levels that will provide enough fish for guided anglers to avoid annual harvest limits this year. The reverse slot limit on a one fish daily bag limit for 2017 will be U44:O80, an increase of an inch in the lower slot limit from 2016 regulations.
In 3A, Southcentral Alaska, the annual harvest bag limit will be 4 fish for guided anglers, and a 2 fish daily bag with one fish under 28". Wednesdays are closed all season; and there are three Tuesdays closed from July 18th through August 1st. Status quo on charter trip limits: one trip per day.
End of "Blue Line"
In other decisions by the Commission, it's the "end of the line" for the Blue Line - the staff recommendations for catch limits, formerly known as the "Blue Line" - were finally abandoned for decision making in the future. They have been a source of confusion for stakeholders and managers alike over the years, and the IPHC has rarely adopted them in the past. In its place, the new model will be a table for "Spawning Potential Ratio" (SPR) that aims to incorporate the distribution of fish along the coast into a snapshot of the productivity of the stock overall. These tables include risk assessments at various levels of harvest to allow for flexibility in setting limits while keeping an eye on all the indicators - and since the Commission chose in many cases a relatively high levels of harvest, it indicates an optimistic outlook for future production.
Regulations get Trumped
There's a new wrinkle. "On January 20, 2017, White House Chief of Staff, Reince Preibus, issued a directive to all federal agencies to suspend the implementation of all new federal regulations until reviewed and approved by agency department heads," according to a recent press release from The Recreational Fishing Alliance. This means the new Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Smith, will need to approve any of the new halibut regulations before implementation. That's is a mixed blessing, as it would help 3A and ding 2C if the halibut regulations remained the same as last year.
Assisted Unguided Operations
The Commission also requested that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to consider measures to deal with the issue of "assisted, unguided anglers" (basically, bareboat charters and boat rentals, etc.) This would affect lodges and other operators that offer clients the use of a boat but without a guide.
"The U.S. highlights concerns expressed to the Commission by guided sport groups regarding the increase in Area 2C and 3A assisted unguided operations, and requests consideration by the NPFMC of this concern".
ACA President, Richard Yamada, commented to Commissioners that while there are concerns from the guided sector it should not be held solely responsible for this recommendation. ACA's concern is having differential regulations for a recreational fishery, enforcement has concerns about enforcing these differential regulations, the Coast Guard has concerns regarding safety for the public, and the commercial fishery has concerns about uncompensated reallocation (as this type of operation grows, there is less of the catch limit available for the setline sector. This applies as well to the guided sector but not in the same proportion). So any action regarding this concern should come from multiple sources. ACA believes that, by having the recreational sector (guided and unguided) managed under one set of harvest rules, this would eliminate most of these issues across the board.