The Council took final action on an issue that would allow retention of legal-size halibut in pot gear in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), provided the operator holds sufficient halibut IFQ or CDQ for the corresponding regulatory area. The purpose of this action is to allow for more efficient harvest of the halibut resource by decreasing wastage of legal-size halibut discarded in the BSAI sablefish pot fishery and to allow for the possibility of reduced whale depredation of halibut off of hook-and-line gear.
This action includes the following elements: 1) an exemption to the 9-inch maximum width of the tunnel opening on pots, 2) VMS and logbook requirements for all vessels using pot gear to fish IFQ/CDQ, and 3) in the event that the overfishing limit for a shellfish or groundfish species is approached, regulations would allow NMFS to close IFQ fishing for halibut as necessary. Additionally, the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone would be closed to all fishing with pot gear. To the extent practicable, the Council has recommended that halibut fishermen in the BSAI interested in using pot gear under this action consult with crab fishery participants on appropriate crab escape mechanisms to minimize crab bycatch.
Until the action is approved by the Secretary of Commerce and implemented by NMFS, retention of halibut in pots in the BSAI is not permitted. The Council plans to review the effects of allowing retention of halibut in pot gear three years after implementation.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.