Halibut Regulations Designed to Ensure Fishery Doesn’t Exceed Catch Limits

Augusta – The Maine Department of Marine Resources reminds harvesters with an Atlantic Halibut endorsement of new state regulations designed to keep the state compliant with federal rules.

The new state rules, enacted in April as emergency regulations and scheduled to become permanent in June, are designed to prevent state licensed harvesters from exceeding the allowable catch limit in state waters and contributing to an overage for the combined state and federal fishery.

An overage in the combined state and federal waters annual catch limit would trigger restrictions, known as Accountability Measures, for federally permitted ground fishermen which would limit their ability to target and catch marketable species, such as haddock and winter flounder.

It would also mean that federally-permitted lobster fishermen from Maine would not be able to participate in the state waters halibut season, as there would be a zero-possession limit imposed on all federal permit holders. “An overage would result in significant hardship for the federal groundfish fishery in the Gulf of Maine, as well as adversely impact many other Maine permit holders who participate in the state halibut fishery,” said Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher.

The total annual catch limit for harvesters in state waters during the 2018 fishing season (May 11 to June 20) is 21.8 metric tons (48,060.77 pounds), while the total allowable catch for state and federally permitted harvesters combined is 104 metric tons (229,281 pounds).

In recent years, state and federal waters catches of Atlantic halibut have been steadily increasing, in 2016 nearly exceeding the level that would trigger the restrictive accountability measures.

In order to remain within the limit set for state waters, and to prevent the overall allowable catch limit from being exceeded, the Department has implemented regulations to reduce catch in the state waters fishery by the following measures: 1) reducing the length of the state waters halibut season by ten days at each end of the season; 2) reducing the number of hooks to 250; and 3) imposing a prohibition on possession of halibut by those license holders who have been issued state commercial halibut tags when operating seaward of the territorial waters boundary.

Furthermore, Commissioner Keliher reminds harvesters, including licensed lobster fishermen with a halibut endorsement, that failure to follow these new rules will result in the suspension of a halibut endorsement as well as an individual’s lobster license. “It is critical that we, as a state, remain compliant with the federal regulations in order to maintain access to this fishery.”

The proposed regulation and a compliance guide for the halibut fishery can be found on the Department of Marine Resources website.