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PUBLISHED: 5:10 PM on Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Halibut limits take a substantial plummet
As expected, less halibut will be crossing the Alaska docks this year. The International Pacific Halibut Commission last week followed the recommendations of its scientists and set a lower Alaska limit at just over 50 million pounds, a drop of two million pounds from 2007.

Regionally, it reflects some ups and downs for Alaska.


  Laine Welch
For Southeast Alaska, the halibut catch was slashed by 27 percent to just six million pounds.

Halibut catches in the Western Gulf, Bering Sea and Aleutians were boosted slightly, while the biggest cuts are in the regions that produce most of the fish. The Central Gulf, which includes the ports of Homer, Kodiak and Seward, has a reduced catch of 24 million pounds down nearly 8 percent.

The reduced catches stem from a new way of counting the fish. Scientists are assessing Pacific halibut stocks as a single, coast wide unit, instead of by separate regions, as they have done for 20 years. Stakeholders knew the reductions were coming, and while they were unhappy about it, they respected the science driving the decision.

"No one likes it but we are more concerned about sustaining the resource into the future. We agreed the science supported the need for the cuts," said Kathy Hansen, a halibut fisherman and spokesperson for the Southeast Alaska Fishermen's Alliance. Hansen added that the cuts will also be felt by halibut sport charter operators in Southeast - the guideline harvest will drop to 930,000 pounds, down from from the usual 1.43 million pounds.

"People recognized that the IPHC staff is doing a phenomenal job of managing the biological part of the fishery and they are not questioning the science," agreed fishery consultant Linda Kozak.

What many are questioning, however, is the way in which the halibut catches are divided.

"The coast wide assessment was pretty much supported across the board by the U.S. and Canada as the way to look at setting catch limits, but the apportionment method is under question. People want to have that reviewed and a get a more clear understanding," Kozak added.

The IPHC will schedule a public workshop this fall to show how and why it is apportioning the halibut stocks. The Commission also was urged to provide more analysis on halibut bycatch issues, and to schedule a bycatch workshop next year.

"The halibut bycatch information has not been updated since 1991," Hansen said.

Reducing halibut size limits from 32 to 30 inches also was a "hot topic," Kozak said. The IPHC will do a full review on size limits at its annual meeting next January in Vancouver.

The 2008 halibut fishery will open on March 8 and run through mid-November.

Fish futures

Brighter days are ahead for Alaska's halibut harvesters. Two huge year classes from 1999 and 2000 are poised to enter the fishery - even larger than the record recruits of the late 1980s. Halibut researchers predict the surge of fish should enter the fishery starting in 2010-2015. One red light - Seafood Trend's Ken Talley said huge and expanding stocks of arrowtooth flounder carpet the ocean floor and compete for the same food supply as halibut.

Managers estimate a major change in the Gulf of Alaska marine ecosystem has favored the arrowtooth, growing the stocks from about 900 million pounds in 1970 to nearly 4.5 billion pounds in 2006. Arrowtooth flounders have no predators, nor is there a commercial fishery because the fish flesh turns to mush when it's heated. The arrowtooth flounder could dominate the Gulf habitat and gobble up most of the food sources, resulting in slower growth for halibut stocks in coming years.

Seafood fete

A tasty line up of new Alaska seafood products will be unveiled in Seattle this week at the 15th annual Symphony of Seafood. The Symphony, orchestrated by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, is designed to showcase new Alaska seafood products and introduce them to the marketplace.

Fourteen new seafood entries will be judged on Jan. 23 in three categories: retail, smoked and food service. As usual, the products come from both large and small companies with a focus on ready-made, heart healthy meals, said event organizer Val Motley.

In the line up: Smokey Salmon Salsa from Harley's Northwest Co., Sea Choice Citrus Herb Salmon Perfect Entrée by Ocean Beauty, Trident's Natural Mediterranean-Style Cod Fillets and Heart Smart, Low Fat Breaded Alaska Pollock. Also: spicy wild sockeye salmon sausage from Vital Choice Seafoods, Wild Salmon Wraps by Anchorage's Taco Loco, Wild King Salmon Jerky by Trapper's Creek, and Ray's Gourmet Wild Salmon Chowder from Borealis Fisheries from far away St. Mary's.

Except for a Seattle People's Choice award, all winners are always kept secret until the Symphony moves to Anchorage. The winners will be announced at a gala soiree on January 31st at the Anchorage Museum, where seafood fans also get to sample all the products and select an Alaska favorite.

All winners receive a trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in late February.

"It's a great opportunity, especially for the smaller guys, to showcase their products," Motley said.

Find more information at www.symphonyofseafood.com.


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