The Pacific halibut fishery ended on November 15 and it’s estimated that Alaska’s longline fleet took  just under 15 million pounds out of a 17 million pound catch limit, or 93%.

Homer held on as the top port for landings, followed by Kodiak and Juneau.

Results from the annual stock survey have raised cautious hopes for a possible uptick in some fishing regions next year. Despite a cut back in some survey areas due to the Corona virus, halibut samplers were in all ports and the 2020 survey is hailed as one of the best ever.

 “On the commercial side, we have nearly identical data sets that we would have on any normal year. And on the survey side, although we did curtail some of the distribution of the survey, we ended up in aggregate at the coastwide level with one of most precise surveys we’ve ever had.”

Ian Stewart is lead scientist for the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

 Because we are moving past a period of low numbers of fish recruitment from 2006 through 2010, Stewart said stock declines are projected over the next several years. But there are some encouraging signs –

Trends seen in the survey on both coast wide halibut weights and catches ticked upwards by 6 percent.

That’s based on what was pulled up per units of effort, meaning a standard “skate” of gear that is 1,800 feet long bearing 100 hooks.

Total weights in the Central Gulf were up 24% – but other Alaska regions didn’t fare so well.

Weights per unit were down 5% in Southeast and down 6% in the Western Gulf. They were a mixed bag of small 2% to 3% changes along the Aleutians, but weights increased by 8% in the Bering Sea.

Stewart also said that halibut bycatch levels by boats targeting other fish also showed declines this year to just over five million pounds.

“This represents by far the lowest value we’ve seen in the entire historical time series, since back to the 1960s. Previously, we had seen a value of around 6 million pounds.”

For decades halibut bycatch levels in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, primary by trawlers, have remained the same despite the ups and downs of the stock. The catches for all other user groups are based on the abundance of the halibut stock.

The North Pacific Council sets the bycatch levels and will decide next month on modifying that inequity.

Meanwhile, the IPHC will set the 2021 halibut catch limits at its virtual meeting set for January 25-29 and the deadline to submit halibut regulatory proposals is December 26.

The Pacific halibut fishery opens in March.