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The body that regulates halibut fishing in Pacific waters off the coast of the United States and Canada has established the halibut quota for 2019, including a 10 percent increase in the central Gulf of Alaska, which includes Seward.

Since 1923, the United States and Canada have jointly managed halibut fishing in the Pacific through bilateral organizations, the current incarnation of which is the six-member International Pacific Halibut Commission. 

The commission sets catch limits intended to ensure the sustainable harvest of halibut in waters under its jurisdiction. Each year the overall quota is again divided among eight regulatory zones from California to the Bering Sea and among different sectors of the fishing industry.

On Feb. 1 the commission, which includes three members from the United States and three from Canada, announced an agreement on the 2019 quota: 38.6 million pounds, of which 13.5 million go to Area 3A, which includes Seward, Homer, Kodiak and Prince William Sound.

That quota is further divided into segments for different sectors of the fishing industry, said Andy Mezirow, a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which provides recommendations to the IPHC. 

“There will be a 10 percent increase overall in our area, and that means that we’ll be closed one less day,” said Mezirow.  “I was hoping for more, but it’s a process, and we have no control over it after we send a recommendation to the halibut commission.”

Closures are one way of keeping the halibut harvest within the catch limits. Last year, the fishery was closed at least one day every week of the season, Mezirow said, with six additional closures. This year, the number of additional closures will go down to five.

“One more day where people can fish for halibut—there will be 650 boats in 3A that will all be fishing for halibut, so its substantial,” Mezirow added.

The IPHC further adopted catch and size limits for charter fishing as recommended by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Those harvesting halibut on fishing charters will be limited to two halibut per day. The first fish may be of any size, but the second must be shorter than 28 inches.

The 2019 overall quota for the United States and Canada is an increase of 1.4 million pounds over 2018, according to an announcement from the National Marine Fisheries Service. That year, the United States and Canada independently set quotas after the IPHC failed to reach an agreement on catch limits, according to an IPHC press release from the time.

Pacific halibut stocks have been in decline for the past decade, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.