Lower catches for halibut appear to be in the forecast for 2020 and beyond.

At the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting on Monday in Seattle, lead scientist Ian Stewart summarized the outlook for commercial fisheries from Northern California and British Columbia to the Bering Sea.

“In short, the model survey trends as you’ve seen from the previous presentations are down both in numbers and weight per unit of effort. And what we’ve seen from the commercial fishery’s CPUE (catch per unit of effort) is we have mixed trends, however relatively flat at the coast wide levels with some brighter spots and some not so good spots across the coast.”  

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While the Central Gulf, Area 3A, showed the biggest decreases in all measures based, Stewart said the spawning biomass of the coastwide Pacific halibut stock decreased from 2018 to 2019.

“This is as predicted and has been predicted for several years. This is projected to continue for all 2020 TCEYs greater than approximately 18.4 million pounds. Essentially the break even point over the next three years. So we’re looking at a period of relatively low productivity for the pacific halibut stock over the next three years.”

TCEY is the amount of yield of halibut over 26 inches.

Stewart added that lower yields will be necessary to reduce higher fishing intensity.

“The primary driver behind that has been the addition of new information about the sex ratio of the commercial fishery catch that has indicated that we’ve probably been fishing this stock harder than we thought, historically.”

For 2019, Alaska halibut fishermen took 94 percent of their nearly 20 million pound catch limit.

Stewart said bycatch of halibut taken by other boats also increased.

“Commercial fishery landings were up by over a million pounds over 2018; also the ‘non-directed discards’, meaning bycatch was up from a little over six million pounds to a little over 6.4 million pounds.”

The IPHC meeting continues through Tuesday.

Tune in on line and find links to all of the documents —