International Pacific Halibut Commission Continues to Ignore Widespread Decline

Based on the 2018 survey of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), halibut are in decline from Oregon to the Aleutians. Biomass (total weight) is down 10% and numbers of fish are down 24% since the late 1990s. Young year classes show the biggest declines – meaning that the downward trend is likely to continue.

Halibut decline

Because halibut migrate across political boundaries they are managed federally and not by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The U.S. and Canada share this resource under the Halibut Treaty of 1923. Pursuant to the treaty, the IPHC is tasked with ensuring sustainable harvest of the halibut resource.

Usually, the IPHC decides on the allowable catch for each region at its January meeting. Last year, however, the United States and Canada failed to agree on a joint management strategy to address the downturn. IPHC commissioners agreed that survey results warranted significant reductions in fishing, but could not agree on where cuts should be made. As a result, each country determined its own 2018 harvest reductions. It was the second such stalemate in almost 100 years of cooperative management.

Both the U.S. and Canada made allocation cuts, but neither was sufficient to match the halibut stock decline. In 2018, the U.S. commissioners reduced the allowable catch for the combined commercial and guided-sport fishing fleets in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C) by 15% and the Southcentral (Area 3A) allocation by 5.5%. IPHC fisheries scientists had recommended larger cuts and said to expect further decline at these harvest levels.

U.S. commissioners claimed that the too-small cuts in 2018 were intended to “put the industry on notice,” and ease fishermen into the decline. Substantial cuts were to be expected this year.

In the IPHC meeting that concluded on February 1, the IPHC overcame last year’s disagreements and reached consensus on catch limits and allocations. Unfortunately, they did so at the expense of the halibut resource.

Commissioners agreed to a coastwide total mortality (all removals: commercial, recreational, wastage, etc.) of 38.61 million pounds of halibut; 1.4 million pounds more than last year.

Chris Oliver, IPHC commissioner and NOAA Fisheries administrator, praised the decision as reflecting a “sensible, conservative approach that will secure the future of this iconic and economically important species.”

Sport fishing regulations in Southeast Alaska will be the same as last year. Guided sport fishermen may keep one fish per day of up to 38 inches or greater than 80 inches. Guided sport fishermen in Southcentral Alaska may keep two fish per day; with a maximum size of 28” on the second fish. There is also an annual bag limit of four halibut, and fishery closures on all Wednesdays and five Tuesdays this summer.

Request for testimony asking that self-guided fishing come under equitable regulations

Dear Alaskan –

Who we are. Alaska Halibut Forever is a grassroots community organization that began in Gustavus in 2006. Our members are people from commercial, guiding, sport, and subsistence fishing backgrounds who are vested in halibut conservation. Our motto is, “We live on the coast, fish for our food, and want halibut to be plentiful forever.”

Halibut is an important food species for Alaska’s coastal communities and should remain so. Our focus has been to protect against halibut depletion in Icy Strait, Cross Sound, and Glacier Bay. However, we are seeking to expand our base to include individuals from other communities who are similarly concerned about halibut depletion.

What we’re focused on now: Self-guided fishing. Alaska Halibut Forever is currently focused on the impacts of “self-guided” halibut sport fishing because this is an insufficiently regulated and rapidly growing fleet. Self-guided clients typically purchase a complete package of services that includes meals, lodging, fish packing, boat rental, fishing gear, a GPS pre-programmed with waypoints where fish can be caught, and assistance via marine-band radio or by “minder” boats. In Southeast Alaska, these businesses began flourishing after 2010, when the bag limit for guided anglers fell to one halibut per person per day. Size restrictions on those fish were added later. Self guiding is a loophole that allows would-be guided fishermen to keep two fish of any size per day, like any unguided sport fisherman. Self-guiding businesses avoid the need to hold limited-entry Charter Halibut Permits (currently valued at $60,000–80,000 for 6 anglers), and they do not have catch reporting requirements like the commercial and guided sport fisheries. Needless to say, self-guided businesses negatively impact legitimate businesses for guided sport fishing.

The self-guided sector has grown rapidly. As of 2017, there were 43 self-guiding businesses in Southeast Alaska with a total of 173 boats. Data show that the halibut sport catch has climbed since these businesses came into being. Self-guiding businesses impact the halibut resource, yet they go without formal recognition, allocation, or an equitable system of regulation. This is occurring at a time when the halibut stock is near an all-time low. As sport-fishing technology improves, pressure increases on halibut in inside waters. In the waters around Gustavus, sport catch approximates the commercial catch in some years.

Involvement with managers. Alaska Halibut Forever sends representatives to meetings of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates Alaska’s halibut fisheries. In October 2018, the Council was responsive to our concerns about the self-guided sector. To read more about what happened at that meeting, please see these articles by KTOO radio and the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

There is as yet no information about when stronger regulations might be applied to self-guided fishermen, but we will continue to work toward equitable management. Our group is encouraged by the Council’s acknowledgement of the self-guiding “loop-hole,” but much work remains.

Council members recommend that Alaska Halibut Forever broaden our support base to include testimony from more coastal communities affected by self-guided fishing.

How you can help. We want to hear about how halibut have been impacted in your area. If you are interested in participating, please subscribe to our blog and like us on Facebook. We use these pages to share news articles about halibut, post Council updates, and ask for letters of testimony. With support from the Council, we may help protect Alaska’s coastal communities from local halibut depletions.

We are looking for Alaskans who share our concern about local halibut depletions, especially regarding pressure from self-guided fishing. Letters of testimony speaking to the impacts of self-guided halibut fishing and asking for these fishermen to come under equitable regulations will be needed before the Council’s April 2019 meeting. We will be back in touch in March with the necessary addresses and talking points.


Alaska Halibut Forever

Letter asking Governor Bill Walker to recommend Dan Falvey & Andy Mezirow to the NPFMC

Two seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), to be filled by Alaskans, are up for appointment. This is the organization that manages halibut fisheries off the coast of Alaska.

Alaska Halibut Forever has submitted the following letter to the Governor asking that he recommend Dan Falvey for appointment and Andy Mezirow for reappointment:


To Governor Bill Walker:

Our organization, Alaska Halibut Forever, asks that you recommend Dan Falvey for appointment to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council,  (NPFMC) and Andy Mezirow for reappointment to that Council.  

Our organization has advocated before the NPFMC for sustainable management of halibut for at least 10 years, adopting the name “Alaska Halibut Forever” three years ago when we published a much-praised brochure on sustainable sportfishing of halibut. We’ve succeeded in adding the perspective of Alaska coastal communities that harvest fish for household consumption to fishery management discussions that had been limited to the commercial (longline) and charter sport sectors.

Dan Falvey of Sitka is exceedingly well equipped to serve on the NPFMC. He has spent decades as first a crewman and then owner-operator of commercial longline boats. Through his Myriad Fisheries business he has engaged in the innovative projects pioneered by the Alaska Longline Fisheries Assoc. (ALFA) such as electronic monitoring to replace the onerous requirement of observers aboard small fishing boats, methods of avoiding sperm whale predation on commercial fisheries, and mapping & updating data to help longliners avoid rockfish and other vulnerable fish populations. For the last few years he has been program director for ALFA. Dan has engaged with the Council process through being on several NPFMC advisory panels over a good span of time.  

We know Andy Mezirow to be a knowledgeable and fair-minded member of the NPFMC in his representation of the charter sportfishing sector. He has comported himself well as a Council member and chair of the Charter Halibut Management Committee.

Thank you for your attention.

Alaska Halibut Forever

Council approved RQE as a new entity to purchase and hold commercial halibut quota for use by the charter sector

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved the formation  of a non-profit Recreational Quota Entity (RQE) that can purchase and hold commercial halibut quota  for use by the charter sector in Alaska. Limits apply – 1% of commercial quota may be purchased and transferred to the RQE in Area 2C (Southeast) and 1.2%  in area 3A (South-central) each year.

This week – Council to decide on proposed RQE to increase halibut allocation for charter operators

The December 7-9 meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) will decide the final action for the proposed Recreational Quota Entity (RQE) for guided halibut sport fishing operators. The program has been under discussion since 2014.

If established, the RQE would purchase and hold commercial quota (IFQs) for the charter fleet. Commercial fishermen are currently allocated 81.7% of the halibut to be fished in a given year and the guided sport fishery is allocated 18.3%. The RQE would shift halibut into the guided sport fishery.

We oppose the RQE program for the following reasons:

  • Increased risk for local area halibut depletions. Halibut fisheries are managed on the basis of broad areas with Southeast Alaska is a single management unit. The system is unable to protect local areas from overharvest. Guided sport fishing is concentrated near certain coastal communities including Juneau, Angoon, Sitka, Gustavus, and Elfin Cove. Since 98% of charter clients in our region are from out of state, increased guided sport fishing pressure would reduce halibut available as a local food to these communities.
  • Increased guided sport fishing pressure would not be evenly distributed. Acceptance of the RQE proposal would result in a 45% increase in the pounds of halibut harvested by guided sport fishermen in Southeast Alaska and a 10% decrease in pounds harvested by commercial fishermen. An increase in guided sport fishing would mean further impacts on halibut in waters where charter fishing is already prevalent.
  • Increased pressure on large female fish and, therefore, broodstock. Guided sport fishermen often target large “trophy” fish, including fish larger than 50”, which are all females. Since the largest females produce the most eggs, acceptance of the RQE would decrease broodstock.
  • More relaxed size regulations for guided fishermen. Regulations currently allow guided sport fishermen in Southeast Alaska to take one fish 43” and smaller or one fish 80” and larger per person per day. Non-guided sport fishermen may take two fish of any size per person per day. Under the 2014 Catch Sharing Plan, size limitations are determined based on the charter sector’s allocation. Since the RQE would increase the pounds of halibut allocated to guided sport fishermen, their size limitations would relax slightly in future years.
  • Funding for the RQE program is yet to be established. RQE funding is not proposed to come by direct purchase of the IFQ by charter captains, but instead from a state halibut stamp or other public money. A funding source is yet to be determined.

Few Southeast Alaska residents seem aware of this proposal even though it appears on the NPFMC website and has been under consideration for two years. Public comments must be submitted to the council by 5:00 PM Nov 29. Submit comments to in reference to agenda item 3C.

December 2015 NPFMC Meeting Agenda

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) has posted its December meeting agenda, including discussion of the CATCH proposal.

The CATCH proposal will be discussed under the title Charter Halibut RQE Program, reference code C6, December 7-15, 2015 at the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage.

The CATCH proposal aims to purchase and permanently transfer commercial fishery quota to charter operations. Charter captains would not be responsible for funding the IFQ purchase. Source of funding is not yet clear, though sale of a halibut stamp has been proposed.

If adopted, this proposal would increase fishing pressure on large halibut near coastal communities where charter operations are prevalent. Read below for comments submitted by Alaska Halibut Forever.

Final decision is scheduled for a meeting in April 2016.  Submit comments to by December 1 at 4:00 pm. Comments to this agenda item should reference code C6.

For more information:

Phone number for the NPFMC office is (907) 271-2809


Comments submitted by AKHF

Subject: Charter Halibut RQE Program (reference code: C6)

Dear Council member –

I am a member of “Alaska Halibut Forever,” a community organization based out of Gustavus, AK. Our organization intends to protect people who fish for their food against halibut depletions near coastal communities. We support a change in the sport fishing culture away from pursuit of trophy-sized fish, and offer information on sustainable halibut fishing.

Alaska Halibut Forever opposes the Charter Halibut RQE Program, aka the CATCH Proposal, reference code C6.

Halibut stock monitoring and regulatory actions by the NPFMC and the IPHC have been based on large areas like 2C and 3A, without considering the risk for depletions near coastal communities.

According to statistics by the ADF&G, our local area “Glacier Bay,” including Glacier Bay, Icy Strait and Cross Sound, often has the largest sport catch (guided + non-guided) of the six statistical areas in southeast Alaska. In 2012 and 2013, sport catch (in pounds) approximately equaled commercial catch for this area. A table outlining these figures is available on our website (see below).

Based on the target IFQ purchase (in pounds), the Charter Halibut RQE Program would result in a 69% increase in allowable charter catch over the 2015 allocation for Area 2C and a 42% increase for Area 3A. This increase would not be evenly distributed across southeast Alaska; fishing effort would increase around communities like Gustavus, Excursion Inlet, Angoon, Elfin Cove, Whittier, Seward and Homer where charter fishing is popular and where there is no plan in place to prevent against local area depletions.

Also, while commercial fishermen are required to keep all legal-sized halibut, guided-sport fishing regulations encourage fishermen to pursue large fish. If the Charter Halibut RQE Program goes through, it will have an important impact on female fish, the largest of which are our most prolific breeders. We cannot continue to increase pressure on big halibut and expect to keep fishing that way.

The Charter Halibut RQE Program would also reduce commercial halibut catch in Area 2C by 16% (3A by 10%) from the 2015 allocation. If IFQs are purchased from larger commercial vessels, the result will increase fishing efforts near communities. If IFQs are purchased from the less expensive “D Class,” smaller-boat quotas, the shift would decrease opportunities for new people to enter the commercial fishery. Either way, less IFQ would be available for commercial fishermen and those fishermen would have to pay for their IFQs, while competing with the RQE Program, funded by an external stream of money. The loss would not be balanced by increased opportunity to enter the charter fishery, because those permits are on a limited entry basis. Therefore, the Charter Halibut RQE Program can only increase profits for people already in the charter fishery.

For more information about Alaska Halibut Forever and our recommended fishing practices, please see the attached brochure made available in Gustavus and Excursion Inlet in June 2015 and visit

Thank you,

Heidi Herter Davis, MS Fisheries