Halibut commission cuts 2020 harvest levels for US waters

  • Snug Harbor Seafoods workers sort halibut offloaded from the F/V Voyager in Homer. Commercial and charter halibut fishermen in Alaska will have lower limits in 2020 after the International Pacific Halibut Commission approved harvet levels on Feb. 7 in Anchorage. (AP Photo/File/Homer News)

Amid ongoing stock declines and concerns about commercial bycatch, the International Pacific Halibut Commission opted to cut allocations in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska for 2020.

Regulatory area 2C, which covers Southeast Alaska, will see about a 7.7 percent reduction from the 2019 allocation, while area 3A, which covers the central Gulf of Alaska, will see about a 9.7 percent reduction. The commission, which includes three representatives each from the U.S. and Canada, passed the catch limits for 2020 at its meeting in Anchorage on Feb. 7.

Coastwide, the commissioners set the 2020 total constant exploitation yield, or TCEY, rate at 36.6 million pounds, about a 2 million-pound cut from last year’s TCEY of 38.6 million pounds. That cut came from the U.S. part of the agreement, though; Canada’s allocation of 6.83 million pounds stayed level, in part due to more biomass availability in Area 2B, Canada’s part of the coast.

Charter halibut rules were also approved based on the harvest levels. In 2C the limits are 1 halibut per day equal to or less than 40 inches or larger than 80 inches. In 3A, the limits are 2 halibut per day with 1 of any size, and 1 equal to or less than 26 inches. Tuesdays will also be closed for charter anglers in 3A.

U.S. Commissioner Chris Oliver said he recognized that there maybe some dissatisfaction on the U.S. side because of the cut while Canada’s allocation stayed level, but that the agreement helped serve the process.

“In this particular case, (the biomass) went up in the favor of Canada,” he said. “While optically, I agree with many stakeholders’ concerns, I think it’s in the best interest of this process and it’s a fair reflection of the agreement we made.”

Oliver said he did have some concerns about the level of fishing intensity being set at 42 percent of the spawning potential ratio, though noted that it is within the range recommended as safe by the scientific advisors to the commission.

Canadian Commissioner Peter DeGreef said he objected to the level of fishing intensity as well, saying that without a cut in allocations soon, the commission could be forced to take more drastic action to preserve the stock. He referenced advice from his father to preserve the stock in his comments.

“This is no way to manage a resource,” he said. “I cannot agree to an F42 (fishing intensity) because I do not believe I would be doing the one thing my father asked me to do.”

The commission also agreed to a 50 percent account of bycatch of halibut smaller than 26 inches, an issue that had caused concern among commercial fishermen and on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council for fishery stability. U.S. Commissioner Robert Alverson noted that commission staff will be presenting more information to the commissioners in the future to help them continue the discussion on including U26 in bycatch accounting.

He also said the concerns of the charter fleet played a role in the catch limits set in areas 3A and 2C. If the limit had dropped much further in 3A, for example, it would have meant the charter fleet was closed for halibut fishing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Alverson said.

“That was a compelling issue there,” he said. “Should the resource continue to deteriorate, I’m not sure we can hold that line in 2021.”

Though commissioners DeGreef and Richard Yamada said they disagreed with major aspects of the agreement, commissioners Oliver, Neil Davis and Paul Ryall said they would support it. Davis noted that the agreement had some major steps forward for Canada, including monitoring for bycatch. However, unless the stock begins to rebound, he said he expected more difficult discussion in the future.

“While this year’s discussions were difficult, I think the next few years look like they will be even more difficult,” he said. “I think it’s important for all of us to bear that in mind, and that it … potentially means that there will be difficult discussions about the scope of fishing opportunities that lie ahead.”

The catch limits for 2020 as passed by the IPHC are as follows:

Area 2A (California, Oregon, and Washington): 1.65 million pounds

Area 2B (Canada): 6.83 million pounds

Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 5.85 million pounds

Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 12.2 million pounds

Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 3.12 million pounds

Area 4A (Eastern Aleutians): 1.75 million pounds

Area 4B (Western Aleutians): 1.31 million pounds

Areas 4CDE (Bering Sea/Closed area): 3.9 million pounds

Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].

02/12/2020 - 7:24am