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MESA: Sablefish Fishery

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Sablefish fisherman bringing in the catch
Sablefish fisherman bringing in the catch.

Heavy fishing by foreign vessels during the 1970's led to a substantial decline in sablefish stocks in Alaska, which prompted fishery regulations and sharply reduced catches. The U.S. longline fishery began expanding in 1982 in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA); in 1988 harvested all sablefish taken in Alaska, except minor joint venture catches.

The federally managed fishery in Alaska went to Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) management in 1995. Quota shares were assigned initially to vessel owners or leaseholders who made at least one landing in the years 1988-1990. Each year, IFQs are assigned to individuals by multiplying the percentage of quota share they own by the annual harvest limit set for the sablefish fishery. Recent quotas have been near 15,000 metric tons. The majority of the sablefish catch comes from the eastern and central Gulf of Alaska, but the fishery also operates in the western Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands. Fixed gear (longlines and pots) harvests approximately 90% of the sablefish quota and trawl gear approximately 10%. Pot fishing, which is banned in the GOA, is allowed in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and accounts for nearly half of the IFQ catch in those areas. The sablefish fishery in Alaska is primarily a small boat fishery with nearly 400 vessels, and the season lasts from approximately March 1 - November 15. Fishery data is collected by fishery observers and through required and voluntary logbook programs. Harvests are strictly regulated and documented through IFQ landing reports and ADF&G fish tickets. Scientific data from the fishery is limited since fishery observers have not been required on vessels under 60 ft. Vessels over 60 ft are required to carry a fishery observer at least part of the time and are required to submit fishery logbooks. Data from vessels less than 60 ft come from landing tickets and a voluntary fishery logbook program. With the observer program restructuring that began in 2013, more fishery data from the under-60 foot vessel fleet is expected.

Graph showing the fishery catches of sablefish by area
Sablefish fishery catch by area.
(Click to enlarge)


Cara Rodgveller
Auke Bay Laboratories
Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries

Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute
17109 Point Lena Loop Road
Juneau, AK 99801

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