A first glimpse at next year’s potential halibut catches will be unveiled today by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which is meeting through Wednesday in Seattle.
Halibut catch limits are determined by summer surveys at more than 1,200 stations from Oregon to the Aleutians.
The harvest has ticked upwards for three years in a row, and allowed for a coast wide harvest this year of 31.4 million pounds, a 5.1 percent increase. For the first time in decades, no regions got a cut in their catch limits.
Alaska gets the lion’s share of the Pacific halibut catch, which totaled 22.6 million pounds in 2017, an increase of one million pounds for commercial and sport users.
Some experts speculate that halibut catches have been set too high for the past two years, and could take a hit in 2018.
The Commission also will review 14 management change requests submitted by halibut stakeholders–12 are from sport users, and seven of those relate to very restrictive onboard processing and holding requirements that most deem wasteful and don’t allow for preserving the catch.
Current requirements call for keeping fish intact or in whole fillets until brought to shore. Several complained that leaving the skin on degrades the quality of the meat.
The St. Paul Fishing Company, a part of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, is asking that halibut be retained in single and longline pots to prevent whales from stealing catches.
The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association requests that shellfish pots be allowed on commercial halibut vessels. And the IPHC proposes that fixed fishing periods, instead of variable, be set to run from March 15 to November 1.
An IPHC breakdown shows that coast wide commercial halibut landings this year totaled 26.2 million pounds. Bycatch mortality was estimated at six million pounds, down one million pounds from 2016 and the lowest level since 1962. Total recreational removals were pegged at 8.1 million pounds, up 10 percent from 2016. That brings the total Pacific halibut removals this year to 42.4 million pounds.
You can follow the halibut meetings live on line.