The International Pacific Halibut Commission’s 2020 fisheries-independent setline survey, from May 23 through Aug. 31, will include a grid of 1,300 stations from Oregon to the northern Bering Sea, including the Aleutian Islands.
The setline survey is conducted using 10 to 14 fishing vessels whose bids were accepted to do the sampling of 28 charter regions within the PIHC convention area. All regions are open annually for single-year bids.
The survey, one of the largest in the world, costs about $5 million to $6 million, and is paid for by the sale of halibut caught to processors located where the charter vessels land, through a bidding system conducted by the IPHC, said Stephen Keith, assistant director of the IPHC.
The survey is conducted to collect standardized data for use in the Pacific halibut stock assessment. This information is used for studies of the Pacific halibut resource such as growth, distribution, biomass, age composition, sexual maturity and relative abundance of other species.
“Generally, many of the same vessels do the survey for us every year,” said Keith. “The survey is designed to be revenue neutral. We are allowed by the treaty (Pacific Halibut Treaty) to sell fish to fund the research.”
“Over the next two to three years our assessment is that the stock will continue to go down,” Keith said. “That’s been consistent. It was at historical high levels around 2000, came down fairly steeply until 2010 and then has been stable, but has been decreasing more gradually since 2016,” he said.
Fishing populations go up and down independent of fishing pressure and the commission has responded appropriately by lowering the catch limits, he said. The IPHC has on file data that goes back 140 years, noting highs and lows in stocks. “One hundred years ago it was high,” Keith said. “Then when commercial fisheries started in 1888 they were fishing it very hard and it was coming down, so the United States and Canada got together and formed the IPHC.”
At this year’s annual meeting of the IPHC in Anchorage some people thought the catch limits set went too high, even though they took a cut from last year to this year, but the place they ended up was an acceptable range for limits to the stock, Keith said. “We have a management strategy evaluation going on, involving scientists and stakeholders, to test how stocks might result from certain strategies. They figure out a range of fishing pressures that is acceptable and right now the catch limits agreed on are within that range, he said.
Still Keith acknowledged that with cuts from the 2019 fishery stocks are likely to go down in 2020.
The point where the commission ended up is okay,” he said. “It’s within a range of tolerable choices we could make. It is a well-managed fishery. We have put a lot of effort into making sure we maintain the stock for the future.”