NOAA Fisheries Issues Final Rule Regarding Prohibited Species Catch Limit for Pacific Halibut

Image: NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries has issued a final rule, effective Jan. 1, 2024, regarding regulations governing limits on Pacific halibut prohibited species catch.

The action implementing Amendment 123 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Management Area was published in the Federal Register Nov. 24.

According to NOAA officials, the final rule is expected to minimize halibut mortality and may result in additional harvest opportunities in the commercial halibut fishery, as well as to the subsistence and recreational fisheries.

The final rule amends the regulations governing limits on Pacific halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) to link the halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 commercial groundfish trawl fleet in the BSAI groundfish fisheries to halibut abundance.

NOAA officials said the final rule is necessary to comply with an obligation in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act that fishery management plans minimize bycatch to the extent practicable.

It’s also consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s National Standards, they said.

The current total annual halibut PSC limit for G+BSAI groundfish fisheries is 3,515 metric tons. Of that total, 1,745 metric tons are apportioned to the Amendment 80 section, which is composed of non-pollock trawl vessels.

The BSAI trawl limited access sector, which is composed of all other trawl catcher/processor and trawl catcher vessels, is apportioned 745 metric tons of bycatch halibut.

The BSAI non-trawl sector, including primarily hook-and-line catcher/processors, is apportioned 710 metric tons. The remaining 315 metric tons are apportioned to the Community Development Quota (CDQ) program, which is composed of vessels fishing for CDQ groups.

The Amendment 80 program, which began in 2008, is comprised of trawl vessels, mostly owned by entities in the Seattle area, that participate in the BSAI groundfish fisheries other than the Bering Sea pollock fishery. Species they fish for include BSAI Atka mackerel, Aleutian Islands Pacific Ocean perch, BSAI flathead sole, BSAI Pacific cod, BSAI rock sole, and BSAI yellowfin sole.

The Amendment 80 program allocates a portion of the total allowable catch (TAC) limits of these species between Amendment 80 boats and other fishery participants.

The Amendment 80 program also apportions crab and halibut PSC limits to limit bycatch of these species while Amendment 80 vessels harvest groundfish.