Fish Radio
Halibut stock holding steady but some catches could decline
November 30, 2016

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch … The Pacific halibut stock appears to be holding steady. More after this —

AK halibut survey regions Credit: IPHC

AK halibut survey regions
Credit: IPHC

Get a fish tech degree on the go with fully loaded iPad classes from the University of Alaska/Southeast. No internet required! Head for a career in Alaska’s largest industry.  Contact Reid Brewer at UAS Sitka     907-747-7799

Federal grants are available to help “Made in America” companies compete with imports and save US jobs. Learn more at


The Pacific halibut stock appears to have stabilized – that’s a take home message from the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s interim meeting continuing today in Seattle.  Results from this year’s survey showed that overall stock abundance is down a bit, and the bulk of the fish remain small for their ages. But the fact that halibut removals and catch rates have remained relatively stable over three years is encouraging news.

IPHC biologist Ian Stewart described the Pacific halibut fishery as “fully subscribed” among  diverse users  –

“Today, in 2016, across the entire coast, 60 percent of the removals from the halibut stock are coming from the directed fishery landings,  about 17 percent are coming  from recreation and from mortality due to bycatch in non halibut fisheries, and about three percent each coming from wastage and personal use and subsistence.”  

Stewart credited cutting edge analytical methods brought aboard by new IPHC director Ray Webster. The “more savvy” modeling smoothes out data gaps. Stewart said, and improves correspondence between the annual surveys and fishery catch rates.

The survey trend this year showed upticks in the largest halibut fishing regions – Southeast Alaska, and the Central and Western Gulf. Another notable, Stewart says, is big drops in halibut bycatch across all regions.

“We’ve seen a substantial reduction in bycatch from almost 9 million pounds in 2014 to almost 7 million pounds in 2016.”

Bycatch removals are taken off the top of the apportionments among fishing regions; less bycatch means more halibut is available for a directed fishery.

According to the IPHC scientists’ notorious “blue line”, the Alaska areas that could show increases in 2017 include Areas 3 B – the Western Gulf, and regions in the Bering Sea.

What drives the halibut directed fishery catch limits is the Fishery Constant Exploitation Yield (FCEY).

A spread sheet provided by an industry expert shows comparisons between the halibut catches that were adopted last year and the FCEYs for 2017, called “blue lines.”

For the coast wide catch, the 2017 FCEY of 26.13 million pounds is down 3.7 million pounds (12%) from the adopted 2016 catch of 29.89 million pounds.

The 2017 FCEY for Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, reflects a 17% decline to just over 4 million pounds.

The blue line for Area 3A, Central Gulf, shows a .8% drop in halibut catches to 9.4 million pounds.

For Area 3B, Western Gulf, the FCEY for next year is just over 3 million pounds, a 17.4% increase.

Area 4A, Aleutian Islands, reflects a 7.9% decline. The FCEY is down 1.8% at Area 4B – the FCEY for Areas 4CDE of the Bering Sea shows a 1.8% increase.

The IPHC often does not follow the dictates of the FCEY/Blue line outcomes.


Stewart cautions that numbers on the blitz of charts and graphs are not catch recommendations, but show outcomes based on scientific rolls of the dice.

 “ I’ll point out that none of these are recommendations. The recommendation from the staff is to use the decision tables to make the decision for the halibut stock. We produce the entire decision table which is a risk analysis, and it’s up to the commissioners to do risk management and decide what the appropriate decision.”

It will take a few days to digest all of the halibut data.

The IPHC will make final decisions at its annual meeting in late January in Vancouver. Alaska’s share of the Pacific halibut catch this year was about 20 million pounds.The halibut fishery will reopen in March. Find links at our website

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods.  Ocean Beauty has contributed over 10 million meals to the U.S. Food Bank network, and is committed to ending hunger in America.