Halibut fishermen are likely to see a 20 percent drop in overall catches for next year.

That’s based on preliminary estimates revealed this week at the International Pacific Halibut Commission interim meeting in Seattle. That would bring the coast wide catch for 2018, meaning from Oregon to British Columbia to the Bering Sea, to about 31 million pounds.

Halibut surveys this summer revealed that halibut numbers were down 24 percent and weights for the total biomass were down 10 percent.

Most worrisome is a lack of younger year classes entering the fishery.

The commission does not always take the recommendations of its scientists and final decisions will be made at the IPHC annual meeting in late January.

While commercial halibut catches are set to drop, charter operators could see an increase.

A so called Recreational Quota Entity program was approved last year by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that will allow halibut catch shares to be purchased and held in a common pool for charter operators to draw from as needed.

Under the plan the RQE can hold 10 percent of the total commercial quota pool in Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, and 12 percent from Southcentral, Area 3A, making it the single largest halibut-holding entity in the North Pacific.

The program would be phased in with transfers of one percent and 1.2 percent from each region, respectively, over 10 years.

It’s unclear where the RQE will get the estimated $25 million to buy halibut quota. Some suggested a self-funding option like a halibut stamp, similar to king salmon, or a voluntary tax.

The program is strongly opposed by commercial fishermen.

In comments, the Halibut Coalition’s Tom Gemmell wrote that the RQE undermines the goal of maintaining an owner operated fleet and will force fishermen to compete for quota against a subsidized entity. Longtime advocate Clem Tillion called it the “death of a small boat, owner operated fishery,” adding that big cruise ship lines will buy the halibut quota to be fished by hired hands.

The RQE plan is set to begin next year.

 

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