The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) has adopted reduced catch limits totaling 38.34 million pounds coastwide, a reduction of 10.3% or 4.25 million pounds of the popular white fish.
The action came at this past week’s annual meeting of the IPHC in Vancouver, B.C. and included new restrictions on the charter halibut fishery quotas in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.
Kurt Iverson, a fishery management specialist with NOAA Fisheries in Juneau, said surveys showed 18% fewer fish coastwide, with the catch-per-unit effort (CPUE) declining by 15%.
Area 3A in the Central Gulf of Alaska, historically the largest area in terms of biomass, was the hardest hit, with its allowable catch dropping by 17%, or 2.47 million pounds. Last year’s total constant exploitation yield (TCEY) or mortality from all manmade sources, was 14,550,000 pounds, compared to a 12,080,000 pound projection for 2023. Only Area 2A, which includes Washington, Oregon and California, remained untouched at 1,650,000 million pounds.
There was near unanimous consensus from stakeholders that reductions in harvest from last year were warranted, Iverson said. The IPHC and stakeholders are concerned with the circumstances, the decline in numbers of fish and CPUE, and are relying right now on two age classes of fish, from 2012 and 2005.
“As these 2005 fish age out of circulation, we are depending on 2012 fish,” he said. “We don’t know how recruitment of young fish is coming along. We don’t have good information on their level of abundance after 2012. We have only two ages of fish we are relying on and one of those age classes is aging out.”
For the charter sector in area 2C, in Southeast Alaska, charter harvests are reduced to one fish per day and that fish must be 40 inches in length or less. Mondays are closed for fishing from July 24 through the end of the year. Area 2C has never before been restricted to closed days.
For Area 3A charter fishing, customers are now restricted to two fish a day and one of those fish must be 28 inches or less. In addition, Wednesdays are closed for the entire year, and Tuesdays are closed from June 20 through Aug.15.
Iverson also noted that new information was incorporated in the stock assessment on natural mortality of halibut. Halibut principally died naturally or due to manmade activities, he said. This information indicates that natural mortality is a higher cause than previously estimated in stock assessments.
“We don’t know how many fish died of what, just that the fish aren’t there anymore,” he said.