IPHC Cuts Pacific Halibut Catch Limit 7 Percent

Commissioners of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, grappling with a decline in stocks, have set the 2020 catch limit for the fishery at 23.10 million pounds, down 7.08 percent from the 2019 quota, for a fishery to run from March 14 through Nov. 15.

The commission adopted a coastwide mortality limit, also known as the TCEY, of 36.6 million pounds. The TCEY, or total constant exploitation yield, is the amount of removals of halibut over 26 inches in length for commercial, recreational, sport charter, subsistence and bycatch in other fisheries. For 2019, that coastwide TCEY was 38.61 million pounds.

The 2020 commercial catch limits in millions of pounds for each regulatory area, the 2019 catch limits, and percentage change were as follows:

Area 4CDE took the largest cut percentage-wise, but it was less than the original cut put forth during the IPHC’s interim meeting in December.

“Clearly this is better and it allows folks to survive another year while we are waiting for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to deal with bycatch issues through the abundance based management program,” said Heather McCarty, long time consultant for the Central Bering sea Fishermen’s Association, a community development quota entity for the city of St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands.

“The current (bycatch) cap is what we call a static cap,” she said. “Every other major species managed by the council is based on abundance of that species. We’ve been working on it since 2015. It has taken this long to get where we are. We anticipate we are getting closer to the time when it might go into effect.”

McCarty said that CBSFA feels that as the stocks decline that the burden of that decline should be borne by all users. “It looked really bad going in” (to the IPHC meeting), she said. “It looks a little better coming out. We are grateful to the IPHC and thank them for that.”

Had Area 4CDE ended up with 680,000 pounds of quota that would have been 16 percent of the biomass, while vessels in other fisheries would have had access to 84 percent of the biomass for bycatch.

Marc Carrel, groundfish chairman for Cordova District Fishermen United, said the cut for harvests in the Central Gulf of Alaska would be hard on everyone, “but given where the resource is at, it is necessary. We have to do it,” he said. “It’s not as bad of a cut as we feared,” he added.

The IPHC sets the total allowable catch, but the bycatch is regulated by the NPFMC. In 2019 the bycatch for Area 4CDE was 31 percent higher than in 2018 and IPHC takes the bycatch off of the TCEY to determine the total allowable catch for the commercial and sport fisheries.

Commercial fishing entities in several areas are hoping that the NPFMC later this year will adjust the bycatch levels in line with abundance. Meeting information, documents, presentations, recordings of the sessions, and the report of the meeting are available on the meeting page at the IPHC website (iphc.int).