Final harvest numbers in hand, halibut commission set for meeting
All of Alaska’s Pacific halibut fisheries stayed within their quota limits this year, but not all individual sectors within the fishery areas did.
The final regular landings update for 2018 from the International Pacific Halibut Commission, issued Nov. 15, outlines the final data available before the first interim meeting of the commission. Overall, all Pacific halibut fisheries for Canada and the U.S. harvested about 26.5 million pounds of halibut, or about 95 percent of the total limit of 27.9 million pounds.
Alaska’s regulatory areas, stretching from Southeast to the northern Bering Sea, all harvested a lower percentage of their quotas than the West Coast and British Columbia, which harvested 99 percent and 98 percent of their quotas, respectively. The two areas with the largest participation and quotas, Southeast and the central Gulf of Alaska, harvested 92 and 96 percent of their quotas, respectively.
Within those areas, though, not every sector stayed within its quota limits. In the central Gulf of Alaska, the guided recreational fishery harvested about 1.85 million pounds, or about 103 percent of its 1.8 million-pound limit. With the commercial discard mortality unavailable, all the other sectors stayed within their quota limits.
The existing overall quotas will come under review at the upcoming interim meeting of the IPHC on Nov. 27-28 in Seattle. On the agenda is a stock assessment, data and harvest decision table for Pacific halibut for 2019, which the commissioners will use to determine quota levels for the upcoming fishing season.
At the same meeting last year, IPHC staff presented stock data showing a significant drop in halibut numbers from Oregon to the Bering Sea, leading to recommendations to cut harvest quotas across the entire fishery by 20 percent.
Political disagreements on the commission about the proper quota level led to Canada and the U.S. setting their own catch limits for halibut. The U.S. dropped its total allowable catch by about 9 percent from 2017, to 17.5 million pounds.
IPHC scientists tied the lower numbers of halibut to poor recruitments of young halibut, beginning in approximately 2009-10, when younger fish did not survive as well to become adults.
With that backdrop of falling numbers, prices at the beginning of the halibut season looked poor, too — about $2.50 less than the average 2017 opening price of $7 per pound, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s market bulletin for halibut. The lower price likely came from competition from existing sources, including existing halibut stocks and incoming Atlantic halibut catches.
The halibut fishery has been trending downward for nearly a decade, according to the ASMI bulletin.
“Since 2011, Alaska’s halibut TACs have been reduced by 46 percent, or about 15 million pounds,” the bulletin states. “Quota for Pacific halibut in British Columbia and the U.S. West Coast (Washington and Oregon) declined by 1.2 million pounds or 16 percent between 2017 and 2018.”
The upcoming IPHC meeting will take a look at the season’s survey data and present recommendations for the commissioners to consider at the full annual meeting, scheduled for Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2019, in Victoria, British Columbia. The stock assessment is scheduled to be presented to the council at 10:45 a.m. on Nov. 27. All open sessions are webcast at iphc.int.
Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].