Halibut Commission to set 2013 catch, consider management changes
The International Pacific Halibut Commission will meet in Victoria, British Columbia, Jan. 21 to Jan. 25 to set catch limits and review its management strategies.
Discussion of the 2013 catch limits will begin Jan. 21, when the commission hears a presentation of staff harvest advice during the first public session. A decision is due at the end of meeting.
Under the most likely scenario presented at the commission’s interim meeting in November, the catch limit could decrease by more than 30 percent compared to 2012.
The entire meeting, except for finance and executive sessions, will be open to the public and webcast online. The webcast does require registration, which is available at www.iphc.int. The meeting is also longer this year than in the past, running a full five days compared to three in the past.
Those changes are some of the results of a 2012 independent performance review, which suggested that the commission process be more transparent. The entire review will be on the table for discussion at the meeting as well.
Also on the agenda for the first public session Jan. 21 are presentations about the fishery including a stock assessment. The news about halibut at the interim meeting in November was mixed. After several years of a decreasing amount of harvestable halibut, it appears that trend may be leveling off. But the 2013 catch limit is still likely to be smaller than last year, marking the ninth consecutive year of cuts.
This year, staff harvest advice will be delivered in a different format than in the past. IPHC staff will present a range of possible harvests, and the likelihood of different outcomes if they’re selected. The table includes such metrics as the chance of a decrease in spawning biomass in future years and the chance of an increase or decrease in harvest in future years.
Under the most likely scenario, the coastwide harvest from California to the Bering Sea would be 22.7 million pounds, down from a 33.54 million pound catch limit in 2012. That’s the number that most closely matches last year’s harvest strategy, although the commission will be presented with a number of other limits and associated outcomes.
The harvest strategy itself could also be up for discussion. At the November meeting, IPHC scientist Steve Martell said the commission’s harvest rate policy is under review.
Alaska’s portion of the limit would be 17.41 million pounds, down from 25.5 million in 2012. That assumes that the proportion given to different areas stays the same as last year.
The commission first saw the staff advice presented in the new format at the November interim meeting. It’s part of a move toward risk-based assessments.
Alaska’s halibut will be up for further discussion Jan. 24 during the second administration session. That includes reports from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, and other entities involved in management and enforcement in Alaska.
The commission is also tasked with discussing some management strategies.
On Jan. 24, the commission will talk about regulatory proposals and management plans for 2013. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has requested status quo management for halibut charters in Areas 2C and 3A, or the waters near Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, respectively.
Staff advice also calls for a March 15 to Nov. 15 fishing season, which is the same as 2012.
The commission will also discuss the Management Strategy Advisory Board, which is a new body that would help evaluate alternative management procedures.
The board would likely have about 15 to 20 people, and would look at catch rate targets, provide technical advice on the model, discuss acceptable risk for the harvest strategy, and compare management procedures.
Other agenda items include discussions of halibut research, a presentation from the bycatch working group, and a performance review.
During the research discussion, IPHC staff will talk about work conducted in 2012, and their plans for 2013. The staff is working on a five-year research plan, which would be updated regularly and guide the annual research goals.
The plan would focus on stock assessment and identification, management strategies, biology and ecology, and prioritize projects. Included are tagging efforts, and ongoing trawl surveys to monitor juvenile abundance.
IPHC nomination process reopened
National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger, Ralph Hoard and Phillip Lestenkof fill the three American seats on the six-member, U.S.-Canadian commission.
But the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, recently announced that they’re soliciting nominations for new representation on the commission in the future. That process has actually been going on for nearly a year.
NMFS opened up nominations for Ralph Hoard and Phillip Lestenkof’s seats last spring. Both were eligible to retain their seats, and Hoard was one of 10 nominees for the positions. Ultimately, none of those nominees were selected, and one, Southeast charter operator Tom Ohaus, withdrew after agreeing to a plea agreement for illegally obtaining a resident sport fishing license.
NMFS spokesperson Julie Speegle said the nine remaining 2012 nominees would have to be re-nominated to be considered for the commissioner positions.
According to a letter from Balsiger to the nominees, the process is being reinitiated because of the time that has lapsed, a concern for balanced representation, and heightened interest from diverse user groups.
A notice of the nomination process was expected to be published in the federal register during the week of Jan. 14.
The 2012 nomination process was the first time commissioners were to be chosen through a public process.
Molly Dischner can be reached at email@example.com.