VICTORIA, B.C. — Coastwide, halibut fishermen will see about a seven percent reduction in catch this year, less than many were expecting.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission set the 2013 catch limit from Northern California to the Bering Sea at 31.02 million pounds Friday.
Alaska’s portion of the catch is about 23 million pounds, down from about 25 million pounds in 2012.
The coastwide catch is down from 33.54 million pounds in 2012, but greater than the 22.55 million pound blue-line harvest considered likely going into the meeting. The blue-line would have matched past harvest policy with the current stock assessment, for a more than 30 percent reduction compared to 2012.
The catch limit for each area is as follows:
■ 2A: 0.99 million pounds
■ 2B: 7.038 million pounds
■ 2C: 2.97 million pounds
■ 3A: 11.03 million pounds
■ 3B: 4.29 million pounds
■ 4A: 1.33 million pounds
■ 4B: 1.45 million pounds
■ 4CDE: 1.93 million pounds
Each limit passed with a 5-1 vote. American Commissioner Ralph Hoard was the sole no vote in each instance. In Alaska, the catch limits are for the directed commercial fishery only. Removals due to bycatch and the sport and subsistence fisheries are figured into the total removals from the stock before the catch limit is determined.
The stock assessment presented at the annual meeting showed that the model had been over-predicting the number of halibut for the last few years, resulting in higher catch limits than actually matched the harvest policy. Although the overestimation is now gone, and the stock appears to be leveling out, IPHC Chief Assessment Scientist Ian Stewart said the amount of exploitable biomass could decrease again as recent poor recruitments make there way into the exploitable component of the stock.
Because of the model’s prediction of future stock size, and the fact that the cuts were smaller this year, future cuts are likely.
The IPHC also approved proposed charter regulations for Alaska that are the same as last year. That means a one fish bag limit and reverse slot limit in Area 2C, and a two fish bag limit in Area 3A, will remain in place. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council had recommended continuation of those management measures at its December meeting.
The catch limits match the Conference Board’s suggestions more than any other single set of recommendations. The board, or CB, is an advisory body to the commission formed primarily of harvesters. The commission also heard recommendations from the Processors Advisory Group, or PAG, which were similar overall, but would have resulted in smaller catch in Areas 2A, 2B, 3A and 3B, and a larger one in 2C.
Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken, who served as conference board co-chair, said she thought the CB’s proposed catch limits got more consideration than in some years past.
“It was a wise decision to stair-step in these changes,” she said.
The commissioners voting in favor acknowledged that cuts were necessary for conservation, but said they wanted to mitigate socioeconomic impacts for fishermen by not implementing them all at once.
Hoard said while he appreciated socioeconomic concerns for the fishermen, he had to vote for the fish – and for the fishermen’s long-term future.
For Area 3A, or much of the Gulf of Alaska, the limit is about a 888,000 pound drop from 2012.
For Area 3B, or the western GOA, the limit is a 780,000 pound decrease.
For Area 2C, or Southeast Alaska, the 2013 limit is actually greater than 2012. It’s close to the blue line number, but lower than the Conference Board recommendation. That is the result of improved survey results for the area last summer, and significant cuts in recent years.
But Behnken said fishermen felt it was somewhat unfair, for those same reasons. The area has already seen significant cuts, and the stock is doing better.
“So there’s some frustration just for 2C that a little bit different standard was applied than for other areas,” she said after the meeting.
Part of that frustration comes from the Area 2B, or British Columbia, limit, which was significantly above the blue line.
Area 4 fishermen, which encompasses the Bering Sea and the most western reaches of American waters, saw a cut in their quota of about 1.19 million pounds.
A significant Western Alaska and Bering Sea delegation showed up at the meeting to talk about the necessity of halibut for their economy.
Clem Tillion said the meeting went well in that the cuts could have been worse, but it’s still a large loss for the area.
The 2013 halibut season will run from March 23 to November 7 coastwide, except for Area 2A where the fishery is open for specific dates only.
The limits were set in the final public session of the IPHC’s 2013 annual meeting, held in Victoria, British Columbia. This was the first annual meeting with more sessions open to the public, an effort that developed out of a previous review of the commission. Stakeholders called that move a positive one, and the commission talked about providing webinars of the public sessions again next year.
The commission also discussed bycatch, oversight bodies for the commission’s scientific work, halibut management strategies and other regulatory proposals.