Overfished halibut under scrutiny as Maine’s catch increases

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Federal fishing regulators say they are looking to change the way they manage Atlantic halibut in the wake of a surge in catch of the fish.

The government lists Atlantic halibut as “overfished” and conservationists want to protect it. But many fishermen say the catch is up because the stock has been rebuilt over recent years.

East Coast fishermen caught more than 215,000 pounds of Atlantic halibut in 2015 in the most productive year of fishing for the flatfish since 1972. Catch of the fish in nearshore Maine waters is helping drive the increase, regulators say.

The regulatory New England Fishery Management Council decided last month to review management of halibut, which is popular with diners and chefs for its thick, meaty steaks. Exactly what form regulation changes could take isn’t yet known.

“We’ve identified that this is an issue, and this will be a priority for 2017,” Janice Plante, a spokeswoman for the council, said.

The council has also asked that Maine’s state fishing managers adjust the way they oversee halibut. Part of the issue is that if fishermen exceed their quota for the fish, it can trigger restrictions on fishing that impact fishermen who operate in federal waters. About 40 percent of the halibut catch for the 2015 fishing year was taken in state waters, mostly in Maine.

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