The International Pacific Halibut Commission wrapped up its 88th annual meeting in Anchorage on Jan 28, with recommendations for combined Canadian-US catch limits in 2012 of 33,540,000 pounds, down 18.3 percent from 41,070,000 pounds in 2011.
The cut was no surprise to those in attendance, who expressed growing concern over the declining resource. The IPHC itself expressed concern over continued declining catch rates in several areas and took aggressive steps to reduce harvests.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting today through Feb. 7 in Seattle, has set aside eight hours for an initial review of a fishery management plan amendment to set Gulf of Alaska halibut prohibited species catch limits.
A number of halibut fishermen also would like to see the council place full observer coverage on groundfish vessels harvesting in the Gulf of Alaska for what they feel would produce a more accurate count of halibut caught incidentally to that fishery.
In its revised gulf halibut PSC plan issued late last year, the council noted that current gulf groundfish harvest specifications annually establish a 2,000 mt halibut PSC limit for trawl gear and a 300 mt halibut prohibited species bycatch for hook and line gear.
Jeff Stephan, who is the manager of United Fishermen’s Marketing Association in Kodiak, said an assortment of factors impact the productivity of the halibut, but that the cumulative and additive impacts of more than 25 years of underestimating halibut bycatch and not understanding or factoring the extent of such bycatch on the health of the resource for many years likely has had a significant impact on parameters of resource distribution, health and productivity.
Stephan said the structure of the current federal observer program has not provided an accurate portrayal of bycatch removals and that it is not yet reasonably clear that the revised observer program structure will meet the necessary objectives for estimating halibut bycatch.
Former council member Linda Behnken, president of the Halibut Coalition in Sitka, said her organization is “deeply concerned about the financial impacts of this quota reduction on small family owned businesses throughout Alaska. “The quota reductions are painful, but commercial fishermen will respect the limits that have been set,” she said. We expect the guided sport industry to do the same. Everyone has to share in conserving and rebuilding the resource.”