Alaska Halibut Charter History

Alaska’s halibut charter business has a pretty interesting history. And it requires a great deal of coordination from a variety of different organizations at both federal and state levels. Many of Alaska’s fisheries are managed entirely by the State of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Halibut fishing is managed at both a federal level and a state level and managed across a number of different user groups such as commercial fishing, sport fishing, and subsistence fishing. We’ll tell you all about the history of this phenomenal fishery. 

A great place to begin would be to tell you that Alaska’s stocks of pacific halibut are considered in very healthy state. Canadian and US stocks are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. This is fantastic news for those of us that love our days chasing halibut.

International Pacific Halibut Commission

A Brief Overview

In the early 1900s, the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) was established to manage the pacific halibut fishery and ensure that it is sustainably harvested. The IPHC is a bi-national organization, between Canada and The United States, that works to conserve and manage the halibut fishery through a variety of measures, including setting catch limits, monitoring catches, and enforcing regulations.

  • Since 1923, the United States and Canada have coordinated Pacific halibut management through a bilateral commission known as the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC). NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific and Pacific Fishery Management Councils are responsible for allocating allowable catch among harvesters in the U.S. fisheries.
  • In 1953 the IPHC made recommendations that were signed by The United States and Canada pursuant to the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea.
  • In 1979 an additional protocol was signed between the two countries.
  • In 1982 the United States created and signed the Northern Pacific Halibut Act which gives the Secretary of State along with the Secretary of Commerce the power to accept or reject recommendations from the IPHC. 
  • Since 1995, The commercial Pacific halibut fisheries have been managed under the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program. It was called the Harvest Guideline Program prior 1995
  • In 2011, a limited entry program was created for areas 2C and 3A
  • In 2014, A catch sharing program (CSP) was implemented for guided sport (charter) and commercial IFQ halibut fisheries in IPHC Regulatory Area 2C and Area 3A. Essentially this created an allocation plan to share halibut between commercial fishing and charter sport fishing.

Pacific Halibut Management Areas

The IHPC has established halibut management areas that range from the southern coast of California, through Oregon, Washington, Canada, and throughout the entire Alaska Region. The IPHC first defined Regulatory Areas in 1932. Over the years, IPHC Regulatory Areas have been redefined and reshaped. The present arrangement was established in 1990. Research shows that Pacific halibut form a single genetic stock across their entire range.

The IPHC meets each year to establish how many pounds of halibut can be harvested in each area. The IPHC conducts annual longline surveys to monitor changes in abundance, as well as age, sex, and size structure of the population. The IPHC conducts research on movements, spawning, and various other aspects of halibut biology. Much of this information is incorporated into stock assessment models that are used to estimate abundance and evaluate alternate harvest strategies. These stock assessment methods and policies are periodically examined to ensure that they are as accurate as possible and provide for optimum yield. Research has also been conducted by numerous other individuals and agencies.

Once the IPHC has established the international quotas for each region, then management of those quotas is left to other agencies such as NOAA, and Alaska Department Of Fish & Game and others.


2022 IPHC Halibut Landings By Region
2015 - 2022 Historical Commercial Halibut Fishing By Port

Management Committees And Regulatory Agencies

International Pacific Halibut Commission (IHPC)
Using the latest scientific information on the abundance and potential yield of the Pacific halibut stock, the IHPC establishes catch limits annually for fisheries in U.S. and Canadian waters.

  • Sets the catch limits at a level that will ensure the long-term welfare of the Pacific halibut stock.
  • Sets the dates for the fishing season, which usually spans from March to November and is closed the rest of the year when Pacific halibut spawn.
  • The commercial fishery has a minimum size requirement to protect juvenile Pacific halibut.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NMFS): has primary responsibility for groundfish management in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, including cod, pollock, flatfish, mackerel, sablefish, and rockfish species. Other large Alaska fisheries such as salmon, crab and herring are managed primarily by the State of Alaska.

NOAA: In Alaska, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is responsible for allocating the catch limits among users and user groups fishing off Alaska and developing regulations for the fishery, in line with IPHC recommendations. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for implementing and enforcing these regulations:

RAM Division of NMFS: The RAM Program is responsible for managing Alaska Region permit programs, including those that limit access to the federally managed fisheries of the North Pacific. The RAM division of NMFS is basically responsible for issues permits for commercial fishing, sport fishing, and subsistence fishing. And, it does this across a range of fisheries including halibut, sablefish, crab, pollock and more

IFQ - Individual Fishing Quota

Alaska’s commercial halibut fishery is managed by a program called the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ). The Pacific Halibut and Sablefish (IFQ) Program is the largest catch share program in the U.S., and was adopted by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 1992.

In 1995, Quota Shares for IFQ program were issued to fisherman that had been fishing between 1988 and 1990. Participation in the IFQ Program is limited to persons that hold Quota Share (QS). So, if you were commercially fishing for halibut between 1988 and 1990 you were eligible to receive a Quota Share, were eligible to participate in the IFQ program, and if you weren’t then you would not be allowed to commercially fish for halibut.

Annually, NOAA Fisheries issues eligible QS holders an IFQ fishing permit that authorizes participation in the IFQ fisheries. Those to whom IFQ permits are issued may harvest their annual allocation at any time during the eight plus-month IFQ halibut and sablefish seasons.

The IFQ and quota share programs, while far from perfect, helps spread out the fishing season, provides for conservation, reduces conflict, and improves fish quality. Most commercial Alaska halibut fishing is done by the long-lining method.

Long Lining for Halibut Illustration
Homer Halibut Hunters customers with a limits of halibut and rockfish

Halibut Charter Fleet Fishing

The charter fishing fleet works very much like the IFQ but through a program called Charter Halibut Permits (CHP). In 2011, the fishery became a limited entry fishery. NOAA and RAM looked at the years 2004 & 2005, and based on a variety of factors, well beyond the scope of this summary(!), determined who would receive a CHP and how many seats that CHP would be eligible for. 

Implemented in 2011, anyone wanting to participate in the sport halibut charter fishing program was required to have a CHP permit onboard the vessel. CHP’s can be leased as well as sold and their value can fluctuate based on the strength of the fishery and the strength of Alaska tourism. Many of the original issued permits were designated as nontransferable and will cease to exist upon the death of their owners. Since 2011, the number of available permits has continued to decline while the demand for halibut fishing has continued to rise. 

This can make finding a halibut charter during the peak months of June, July, and August very challenging the areas of Homer, Seward, Ninilchik and Whittier.


How Much Halibut Is Allocated To Halibut Charter Fishing?

Each year the IPHC determines how many pounds of halibut will be allocated to each management area (See the management area 2022 summary above). Once this allocation is complete, management areas 2C and 3A, are managed through what is called a Catch Sharing Program (CSP). These two areas are the only areas with a CSP due to the high demand for halibut sport fishing, the amount of impact the charter fleet can make on the fishery, and very real danger of over harvesting 2C and 3A specifically.

Basically this is simply an allocation of how many pounds of fish will be allocated to IFQ and how much will be allocated to CHP in the respective areas.

One might think this will create a massive fight each year but it does not. The allocation that each group gets is written directly into legislation and is simply set by a fairly simple table. 

As shown in the example on the right, if the Combined Catch Limit, set by IHPC for region 3A is between 10.8 and 20.0 million pounds of fish, then 17.5% of the allocation will be awarded to charter halibut fishing and the remaining balance will be allocated to the commercial fishing IFQ. 


3A CHP Allocation Table For Halibut

No Charter Halibut Fishing On Wednesdays

Biomass is a major indicator used to gauge the health and sustainability of the fishery. A large, 200 pound female halibut may lay up to 4 million eggs where as a young female halibut may lay only 200,000 eggs. Biomass is simply an estimate that combines the concept of 1) how many fish are out there and 2) how big are they?

Using the best science, long-line surveys, estimate models and more, NOAA will estimate the average weight that will be taken daily by each CHP holder. If NOAA estimates that the total amount of halibut harvest will exceed the quota that has been allocated to the sport fishery (through the CSP) then they will put restrictions in place to limit the amount of fish that can be harvested throughout the year.

One of the most common restrictions is no charter halibut fishing on Wednesdays. In some years, when the allocation for area 3A has been particularly low, due to low biomass estimates, and therefore low allocation amounts, Tuesdays are restricted as well.

In 2022, as an example, there was no halibut fishing allowed on any Wednesday as well as on Tuesday, July 26th and Tuesday, August 2nd. This rule only to sport charter halibut fishing and not to private anglers. 

One Big One & One Little One

One of the other tools NOAA used to ensure that the charter halibut fleet remains below its allocated quota each year is what is locally called the One Big One and One Little One Rule. What you’ll often hear on the boat is “over and under”.

The actual wording is: 28-inch maximum size limit on one fish: Charter vessel anglers may keep one fish of any size per day and one fish that is no more than 28 inches in length.The 28-inch maximum size limit allows anglers to keep a second fish that weighs approximately 9 pounds, round weight.

Each year this size limit changes but is usually in the 28-inch to 32-inch size restriction. This tool is one more way that NOAA manages the total amount of halibut (in pounds) that is caught by the sport charter halibut fleet so as to not go over the allocation.

One again, this restriction only applies to sport charter halibut fishing and not to private anglers. Private anglers are also limited to 2 halibut per day but both of these halibut can be of any size.


Anglers using tape measures to determine the length of halibut brought onboard Orion

Ready To Book?

Choose Your Fishing Adventure!​

3/4-Day Halibut

$300 Early & Late Season
$350 June, July, August

  • Two Trips Daily: 6:30 AM / 1:30 PM
  • 6 Hours Duration
Drifters lodge staff show off their limits of halibut caught aboard Orion with Captain Jimmy Counts of Homer Halibut Hunters

Full-Day Halibut

$350 Early & Late Seaons
$400 June, July, August

  • Meet 6:45 AM For 7:00 AM Departure
  • 7 – 8 Hours Duration
Homer Halibut Hunter customers show off a massive haul of barn-door halibut,

Halibut & Rockfish

$400 May & September
$450 June, July, August

  • Meet 6:45 AM For 7:00 AM Departure
  • 7 – 8 Hours Duration
6 massive halibut are hanging with anglers smiling behind them

Halibut & Salmon

$400 Early & Late Season
$450 June, July, August

  • Meet 6:45 AM For 7:00 AM Departure
  • 7 – 8 Hours Duration
Two anglers hold up three yelloweye rockfish caught in Kachemak Bay, Homer Alaska

Multispecies: Halibut,
Rockfish, Salmon, Lingcod

$450 Early & Late Season
$500 June, July, August

  • Meet 6:45 AM For 7:00 AM Departure
  • 8 – 9 Hours Duration
Homer Halibut Hunters customer holds a huge Kachemak Bay King Salmon

Salmon & Rockfish
(Wednesday Only)

$400 Early & Late Seaon
$450 June, July, August

  • Meet 6:45 AM For 7:00 AM Departure
  • 7 – 8 Hours Duration