Pacific halibut takes center stage today and tomorrow (Nov. 27/28) as the International Pacific Halibut Commission convenes its interim meetings in Seattle. Industry stakeholders will get updates on the status of the stocks and potential catches for 2019.
One thing is already clear: halibut abundance continues to decline overall, as estimated in previous years and verified in this year’s analyses. That’s likely to result in lower catches, said IPHC executive director, David Wilson in an email message.
A summary of the 2018 data show that landings of Pacific halibut from California to the Bering Sea were about 23.5 million pounds, 97 percent of the total catch limit and a low for the last decade.
For Alaska, the catch total was nearly 16.7 million pounds, five percent shy of the fishery limit.
Total halibut removals by all users and regions, and including bycatch, added up to 38.7 million pounds.
The commercial fisheries took 61 percent of the halibut catch limit, recreational users took 19 percent and three percent went for subsistence. Halibut bycatch in other fisheries took 16 percent of the total catch.
For halibut taken as bycatch, the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska totaled 2.1 million pounds, nearly all by trawlers, with longliners a distant second. IPCH researchers say those Gulf regions are where bycatch is estimated most poorly due to lower observer coverages.
In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, where nearly all vessels are required to have 100 percent observer coverage, bycatch is projected at nearly 3.5 million pounds, nearly all from the trawl flatfish fishery and Seattle boats.
The average price at the docks for Pacific halibut this year was $5.74 per pound, compared to $6.53 in 2017.
Finally, a fixed season date of Oct. 31-Nov. 15 is being proposed for the halibut fishery. Wilson says it would allow stakeholders to more effectively develop business plans and to allow the IPHC “to more effectively monitor and manage the fishery.”