Fish Factor/December 3, 2012

      Alaska Halibut could be cut by 33 percent in 2013

      Halibut catches could be cut by 33 percent next year if proposed numbers get the nod by the International Pacific Halibut Commission next month.  That would mean a coast wide harvest of  just  22.7 million pounds for fisheries in California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska.   Alaska’s share of the halibut catch would be 17.4 million pounds, down from about 25 million this year.

            Unlike past years, staff scientists are not making catch limit recommendations by separate areas. Instead, they are providing “assessment and advise frameworks” to the commission that embodies the risks and  benefits associated with choices for harvests in certain areas.

“We are trying to provide a link between previous years and this year using what’s being called a Blue Line  out of the decision table,” explained Bruce Leaman,  IPHC executive director after an interim meeting last week .  “That is the application of our current harvest policy using the rates in each area   to the results of this year’s stock assessments.  So that is what the Blue Line represents – but it is not a recommendation by the staff, it is just one of the choices we are putting forward for the Commission to decide on in January.”

            Leaman said the most significant thing that came out of this year’s halibut stock assessment was the solution to a “retrospective problem” that has been plaguing the stock for the past several years.

             “That means we were continually overestimating the stock size and having to reduce that estimate over time, and we were not capturing the correct level of estimated biomass,” he said. “The result of that has been the trends we have been presenting to people has shown this upward bend to the trend of stock  biomass that is not there.   In solving the retroactive problem, it essentially unfolded the end of that curve and so it’s now in a fairly flat phase and the stock decline  has been fairly continuous from there. But we have made some big steps towards getting back to a correct harvest rate.”

            If the proposed numbers hold for 2013, it will add up to a nearly 70 percent reduction in Pacific halibut catches over the past three years.  The outlook for the immediate future is grim as stock assessments appear to be on a very flat trajectory.

            Here are the low ends of the 2013 ‘blue line’ catch assessments by Alaska region in millions of pounds with comparisons to this year in parentheses:

Area 2C (Southeast Alaska)   3.12    (2.624)

Area 3A (Central Gulf)   9.24   (11.9)

Area 3B (Western Gulf)   2.73     (5)

4A (Aleutian Islands)  850,000  (1.567)

4B (Aleutian Islands) 620,000 ( 1.869)

4CDE (Bering Sea) 850,000 (2.465) 

See the complete halibut reports at