The annual, three month survey of the Pacific halibut stock will have a “reduced footprint” this summer due to constraints from the coronavirus. A total of 898 stations will be surveyed by longline gear, down 30% from the originally planned 1,283 stations.
“We’re going to maintain sampling in the core regions where the vast majority of the stock resides. So while it’s important to still sample those peripheries, we still are going to be sampling about 74% of the known distribution and biomass of the stock so it’s going to be a particularly robust survey.”
David Wilson is director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission which oversees the stock from the west coast and British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea.
The foregone survey areas this summer include waters off California, Oregon and Washington. For Alaska, areas 4CDE in the Bering Sea near the Pribilof Islands were cut, along with Areas 4A and 4B of the Aleutian Islands near Unalaska and Adak.
“We also thinned out a little bit in 3B, the Western Gulf of Alaska, and we also removed the stations off Vancouver Island,” Wilson said.
The survey duration also is reduced to July 1 through August 31, instead of starting in June for 11 chartered vessels, down from about 17.
Low halibut prices also affected the decision to winnow down. The caught fish are sold to cover the costs of the surveys and prices are off by about 30 percent from last year.
Wilson agreed that missing data increases the level of uncertainty in stock assessments, but said the IPHC believes it is acceptable for one year.
“The other thing to note is that we do this on an annual basis, and I don’t think there are any other surveys of this nature on this scale which then feed into annual stock assessments. We actually ran the scenario of what happens if we don’t survey this year at all and we would still feel confident that we would have very robust estimates of spawning stock biomass and mortality limits (catch limits/removals) for 2021.”