Halibut stakeholders will know on Friday how much fish they can catch this year.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission is meeting in Victoria, British Columbia all week and how to split a dwindling resource among eight regions from Northern California to the Bering Sea is set to be contentious.
IPHC director David Wilson said halibut catch limits are likely to decline again this year.
Last year’s meeting ended in an impasse between Canada and the U.S. when the six commissioners – three from each country – couldn’t agree over the catch splits and each country set its own levels based on limits for the prior year.
When the IPHC switched its stock assessment levels from a regional to a coastwide model 10 years ago it reduced Canada’s annual catches by five to seven percent. Since then they’ve set their catch limits higher than staff scientists have recommended, often pointing to Alaska’s multi-million pound takes of halibut bycatch.
Under the current harvest policy, Canadian fishermen would receive just over 12 percent of the overall halibut catch this year. Canadian commissioners say they want 20 percent, something the U.S. calls unrealistic.
Another sticking point could be the first ever request for a fixed minimum amount of halibut – 1.5 million pounds for Washington, Oregon, and California fisheries. That has other regions asking about similar guarantees.
A fixed date for the fishery to run from March 15 to October 31 also is being proposed. Director Wilson said that would let stakeholders plan more effectively and allow the IPHC to better monitor and manage the fishery.
In 2018 total removals of Pacific halibut from all regions including bycatch was 38.7 million pounds.
The commercial fisheries took 61 percent of the halibut, recreational users took 19 percent and three percent went for subsistence. Halibut taken as bycatch in other fisheries was 16 percent of the total catch limit.
Alaska’s catch total was about 16.7 million pounds, five percent shy of its regional fishery limit.
You can listen to the halibut meetings live –