NOAA Fisheries is implementing a plan to tighten limits on the amount of halibut bycatch that could be caught in the commercial groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska.

The fishery management plan amendment, "Amendment 95," is intended to minimize halibut bycatch in the Alaska groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable while preserving the potential for the full harvest of groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska.

There are two broad sectors that harvest groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska that will be directly affected by the amendment — vessels using hook-and-line gear and vessels using trawl gear.

The hook-and-line gear sector is further divided into catcher vessels and catcher/processor vessels. Under the amendment, the bycatch limit reductions for each sector are:

•    Hook-and-line catcher/processor: 7 percent; implemented in 2014;
•    Hook-and-line catcher vessel: 15 percent; phased in over 3 years by 2016;
•    Trawl vessel: 15 percent; phased in over 3 years by 2016.

A phased-in halibut bycatch reduction schedule allows the affected industry sectors time to adapt to the reduced halibut bycatch limits. The jig gear and pot gear sectors are not affected by this rule, as they historically have been exempt from halibut bycatch limits.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended reducing the annual Pacific halibut bycatch limits for the commercial groundfish fisheries to minimize halibut bycatch in the groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable and promote conservation of the halibut resource.

In addition, the halibut bycatch reductions could potentially increase the amount of halibut available to catch in the directed halibut fisheries, such as the commercial Individual Fishing Quota fishery and the charter halibut fishery.

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