For Alaska commercial fishermen, the catch limit for 2022 totals 21.51m pounds compared to 19.6m pounds in 2021.
January 31, 2022
The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) announced slightly increased catch limits for 2022 in Alaska and British Columbia along with season dates of Sunday March 6 through Wednesday, December 6, 2022.
IPHC’s annual meeting also set the catch limit in Washington, Oregon, and California at the same level it has in the past four years — 1.65 million pounds.
The slight increase from 39 million pounds coastwide last year to 41.22 mlb. this year was due in large part to the emergence of young halibut that began reaching harvestable size of 32 inches only in recent years. Those young fish hatched in 2012 and are estimated now to be a significant contributor to the spawning biomass.
The IPHC process to set catch limits is a coordinated effort by fishermen, who are members of the Conference Board (CB), and processors who participate in the Processor Advisory Board (PAB). Both groups take the scientific reference points from the IPHC staff, apply their perspectives, and provide recommendations to the six member Commission — three from the U.S. and three from Canada.
This year, the outcome differed slightly from other years in how far apart the Commissioners were from the IPHC’s references points, and from the advisory bodies, in two areas in particular: western Gulf of Alaska and Southeast Alaska.
The final adopted limits for each regulatory area are as follows (all numbers are in million pounds):
Area 2A (WA, OR, CA) — 1.65
Area 2B (B.C.) — 7.56
Area 2C (Southeast Alaska) — 5.91
Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska) — 14.55
Area 3B (Western GOA) — 3.90
Area 4A (Aleutians Islands: SE Bering Sea and North Pacific) — 2.10
Area 4B (Western Aleutians: BS and NoPac) — 1.45
Area 4CDE (rest of Bering Sea) — 4.10
The total of 41.22 mlbs was agreed to by the advisory bodies and the Commissioners as the best, most scientifically defensible level for 2022. It was only in individual Regulatory Areas that the catch limit differed from the scientific advice.
IPHC’s reference point for removals in Area 2C, based on the survey and modeled stock assessment, was 4.75 mlbs — 24.4% lower than the final adopted amount of 5.91 mlbs. In Area 3B, the western Gulf of Alaska, the adopted limit of 3.9 mlbs was 34.3% lower than the 5.94 mlbs reference point from IPHC.
Both advisory groups offered recommendations to the commissioners for addressing allocation next year, when a four-year interim management agreement between the two countries expires. That agreement acknowledged a divide between the two countries on how to distribute catch that goes back decades, when IPHC used an area-by-area stock assessment prior to a coastwide assessment, which has been in use for more than a decade now.
The disagreement was exacerbated in recent years by Bering Sea bycatch of undersized halibut that would impact future migrations (and potential catches) to B.C. With last month’s decision of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to lower bycatch caps in one trawl sector in the Bering Sea, both countries are preparing for a new — and hopefully more permanent — way to determine country allocations.