NOAA Fisheries is issuing a final rule to implement Amendment 123 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area. The final rule establishes abundance-based management of Amendment 80 trawl sector prohibited species catch limit for Pacific halibut.
The Amendment 80 sector is a fleet of nearly 20 trawl catcher-processor vessels in the Bering Sea that target:
- Pacific cod
- Pacific Ocean perch
- Atka mackerel
- Rock, yellowfin, and flathead sole
This action was recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its December 2021 meeting. It minimizes halibut prohibited species catch to the extent practicable without compromising the ability to attain optimum yield in these fisheries.
Pacific halibut is fully allocated in Alaska as a target species in subsistence, personal use, recreational, and commercial halibut fisheries. Halibut has significant social, cultural, and economic importance to fishery participants and communities throughout its geographical range.
Halibut is also incidentally taken as bycatch in groundfish fisheries. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Fishery Management Plan had previously set the annual halibut mortality prohibited species catch limit for the Amendment 80 sector at 1,745 metric tons.
In recent years, catch limits for the commercial halibut fishery have declined in response to changing halibut stock conditions. Over the same timeframe, limits on the maximum amount of halibut prohibited species catch allowed in the groundfish fisheries have remained constant. The Amendment 80 sector is accountable for the majority of the annual halibut prohibited species catch mortality in these fisheries.
Amendment 123 achieves the Council’s intent to link the Amendment 80 sector’s prohibited species catch limit to halibut abundance.
Amendment 123 replaces the previous static halibut prohibited species catch level of 1,745 metric tons for the Amendment 80 sector. It establishes a process for annually setting the halibut prohibited species catch limit for the Amendment 80 sector based on the most recent halibut abundance indices.
The limits established by this action range from:
- Current limit of 1,745 metric tons, when abundance is high in the International Pacific Halibut Commission index and either high or low in the NOAA Fisheries Eastern Bering Sea index
- 35 percent below the current limit when abundance is very low in the International Pacific Halibut Commission index and low in the NOAA Fisheries Eastern Bering Sea index
The final rule is effective on January 1, 2024, and the limits established by this action will apply to fishing by the Amendment 80 sector in 2024.