Another year of halibut quota cuts on the table

  • By Molly Dischner
  • Tuesday, December 2, 2014 10:48pm
  • News

Pacific halibut fishermen could have a reduced catch next year if the International Pacific Halibut Commission opts to go with the “blue-line” projection released Dec. 2, but Alaskan fishermen in some areas may see a slightly higher quota than in 2014.

The blue-line projection calls for a coastwide catch of about 25.02 million pounds million pounds, and total fishery removals of 38.72 million pounds. The coastwide catch figure includes commercial wastage but not the sport fishery; in 2014, the comparable blue-line recommendation called for a coastwide catch of 24.45 million pounds, but the commission ultimately opted to set the limit slightly higher, at 27.52 million pounds.

Alaska’s portion of the blue-line projection would be about 19.32 million pounds, compared to about 19.7 million pounds in 2014.

IPHC Quantitative Scientist Ian Stewart presented the results of the 2014 stock assessment and possible 2015 harvests at the commission’s interim meeting taking place Dec. 2-3 in Seattle. The blue-line recommendation matches the current harvest policy with the most recent stock assessment, and is typically similar to the catch limit set by the six-member commission of U.S. and Canadian members.

Pacific halibut harvests are set under a treaty between the U.S. and Canada, with an equal number of members from each nation.

The commission is not required to go with the blue-line, however, and will make a final decision on the 2015 limits at its annual meeting in January.

As he did for the 2014 limits, Stewart provided information about a range of 2015 harvests and the effects they might have on the stock.

Under the blue-line information Stewart provided, the catch in Southcentral Alaska, or Area 3A, and Southeast Alaska, or Area 2C, would increase slightly. Area 4A, or part of the Bering Sea at the end of the Alaska Peninsula, would also increase compared to 2014, but the rest of the Bering Sea would have a decreased catch.

The projection called for a charter catch, including wastage, of about 790,000 pounds in Southeast and 1.89 million pounds in Southcentral. The commercial catch would be about 3.4 million pounds in Southeast, 7.81 million pounds in Southcentral, 1.35 million pounds in 4A, 720,000 pounds in 4B (Aleutians) and 370,000 pounds in 4CDE (Pribilof Islands).

Area 4A had the largest increase in fish shown by the IPHC’s summer survey, Stewart said, which was one of the factors contributing to the shift in how the coastwide limit could be apportioned. This summer, halibut were found at several 4A stations where they haven’t been seen previously, he said.

The reduction for the rest of the Bering Sea, or Areas 4B and 4CDE, was due to a change in bycatch, he said. The actual stock status for the area appears stable, and increasing, according to the survey results. Halibut bycatch for 4CDE in 2015 is estimated at slightly more than 3 million pounds, however.

Last year, the commission adjusted the apportionments to allow a slightly larger harvest in 4CDE than the blue-line called for based on input from fishermen in that region.

This year, Areas 2C and 3A went over their apportionments by about 3 and 5 percent respectively, according to a presentation by the IPHC’s Heather Gilroy. That was caused primarily by a larger-than-expected harvest by the charter sector, and more commercial wastage than anticipated.

In 2014, the total Alaska commercial catch was about 16.75 million pounds; sport anglers harvested about 6.9 million pounds, Gilroy said.

Stewart also provided the commission with some information on a “status quo” option, which mirrors the 2014 limits. According to the harvest policy decision table, sticking with a harvest of about 27.5 million pounds, and total removals of about 41.4 million pounds, would mean an increased chance that the catch limits would need to be decreased in 2016.

Under the blue-line, there’s an estimated 37 percent chance that the 2016 catch is less than the 2015 catch, if the 2016 catch is based on the blue-line. Under the status quo projection, that increases to a 57 percent chance.

The IPHC also heard reports on work to study and possibly reduce halibut bycatch.

Commissioners generally supported asking IPHC staff to analyze a change to halibut accounting that could reduce commercial wastage, although a final decision on that motion was planned for Dec. 3.

The analysis would look at changing the legal size of commercial halibut from over 32 inches to over 30 inches.

Canadian Commissioner David Boyes said that could be a “valuable step” toward reducing halibut mortality.

The commission is also set to meet with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in February to discuss bycatch.

According to IPHC Commissioner Bob Alverson, the two bodies intend to look at developing a broader set of strategies or principals to reduce wastage.

Stewart also talked about IPHC staff’s work to develop a new tool for assessing the impacts of mortality. The spawning potential ratio, or SPR, is intended to help account for all types of halibut mortality, including competing sources, and compare different sources of mortality. The work so far shows that the trade-off between bycatch and directed catch is about a pound for a pound, Stewart said.

Molly Dischner can be reached at mollydischner@yahoo.com.

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