IPHC staff presents 2016 halibut harvest recommendations

The International Pacific Halibut Commission’s scientific staff released its recommendations for the 2016 harvest Dec. 1, including the first natural bump the Central Bering Sea, or Area 4CDE, has seen in 10 years, as well as an overall increase from recent recommendations.

The international commission sets the direct commercial halibut removals in U.S. and Canadian waters of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the allocations for sport removals and halibut bycatch that are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The commission will decide on the final allocations at its meeting in January 2016.

The suggested harvest limit, or blue line, for 2016 is 26.56 million pounds, 20.32 million of which are reserved for Alaska waters. This is 9 percent lower than the adopted harvest limit in 2015, but higher than the blue lines from 2014 and 2015 at 25.22 million pounds and 24.45 million pounds, respectively.

Most regulatory areas have an increased blue line harvest limit from both the 2015 blue line harvest limit. Three areas have a blue line limit greater than the actual 2015 allocation. One notable exception is Area 3A, or the Central Gulf of Alaska, which has the largest amount of removals from directed catch, sport harvest and bycatch.

The blue line recommendation for 3A in 2016 is 9.37 million pounds compared to 10.1 million pounds in 2015.

IPHC scientists recommend the “blue line” harvest quotas at the interim meeting each year; the six commissioners (three each from the U.S. and Canada) then vote at the annual meeting each January to choose the limits.

The IPHC can choose to set the quotas greater or less than the blue line recommendation. Last year, the British Columbia coast had a blue line recommendation of 5.22 million pounds, but the IPHC ultimately adopted a harvest limit of 7.06 million pounds for the area.

Overall, the IPHC chose a total commercial harvest of 29.2 million pounds in 2015 compared to the blue line recommendation of 26.5 million pounds.

Area 4CDE is seeing an increase in 2016, with a blue line harvest level of 1.44 million pounds.

The increase should be cause for some relief in the Central Bering Sea, where declining halibut allocations have taken their toll on the fishery-dependent Pribilof Island economies. The blue line in 2015 was just more than a half-million pounds, or a 60 percent cut from 1.285 million pounds in 2014, and a 73 percent cut from 1.93 million pounds in 2013.

Only an emergency order from U.S. Department of Commerce officials got the adopted harvest in 2015 up to 1.285 million pounds, which fishermen say is the bare minimum they need to sustain their livelihood.

Halibut quotas shrank considerably from 2004-2014 until stabilizing in the last two seasons.

In 2004, the coastwide Pacific halibut catch limit was 76.5 million pounds. By 2014, that had been cut 64 percent to 27.5 million pounds. On Jan. 30, 2015, the commission set the quotas for commercial and charter halibut industries at 29.2 million pounds total coastwide catch, 22 million pounds of which went to Alaska waters.

The following are the blue line harvest limits compared to last year’s:

• Area 2A (Northern California to Washington): 1.02 million pounds, up from 750,000 in 2015. The adopted allocation was set at

• Area 2B (British Columbia): 5.22 million pounds, up from 4.96 million pounds in 2015.

• Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 4.63 million pounds, up from 4.30 million pounds in 2015.

• Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 9.37 million pounds, down from 10.1 million pounds in 2014.

• Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 2.67 million pounds, up from 2.46 million pounds in 2015.

• Area 4A (Alaska Peninsula): 1.3 million pounds, down from 1.39 million pounds in 2015.

• Area 4B (Aleutian Islands): 910,000 pounds, up from 730,000 in 2015.

• Area 4CDE (Bering Sea); 1.44 million pounds, up from 520,000 in 2015.

DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.summers@alaskajournal.com.

12/02/2015 - 2:31pm