Pacific halibut stakeholders are bracing for bad news for 2020 and beyond when catches are revealed next week in Anchorage.

International Pacific Halibut Commission lead scientist Ian Stewart put the industry on notice in November when he summarized the outlook for commercial fisheries.

“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 is we have mixed trends, however relatively flat at the coastwide levels with some brighter spots and some not so good spots across the coast.” 

IPHC scientists track the halibut stock from Northern California to British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. The  Central Gulf  showed the biggest decreases by all measures, and Stewart said the spawning portion 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 “total constant exploitation yield and means the amount of removals of halibut over 26 inches for commercial, recreational, sports, subsistence and bycatch in other fisheries.

For 2019, the coastwide TCEY was 38.6 million pounds. Alaska fishing industry share was about 20 million pounds

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.” 

Stewart said bycatch of halibut taken in other fisheries 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 annual meeting convenes Feb. 3-7 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage.

The halibut meeting will be streamed live. Click for links to the agenda –