IPHC Cuts Pacific Halibut Catch Limit Seven Percent

Commissioners of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), grappling with a decline is stocks, have set the 2020 catch limit for the Pacific halibut fishery at 23.10 million pounds, down 7.08 percent from the 2019 quota. The fishery will 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. In 2019 that coastwide TCEY was 38.61 million pounds.

The 2020 commercial catch limits, in millions of pounds, for each regulatory area are:

• Area 2A (Washington, Oregon, California) 0.87
• Area 2B (British Columbia) 5.12
• Area 2C (Southeast Alaska) 3.41
• Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska) 7.05
• Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska) 2.41
• Area 4A (Aleutians) 1.41
• Area 4B (Aleutians) 1.10
• Area 4CDE (Bering Sea) 1.73

Although area 4CDE took the largest cut percentage wise, it was less than the original figure 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 (CBSFA), a community development quota entity for the city of St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands, Alaska.

“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 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 represented 16 percent of the biomass, while vessels in other fisheries would have had access to 84 percent of the biomass for bycatch.

The IPHC sets the total allowable catch, but the bycatch is regulated by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC). In 2019, the bycatch for Area 4CDE was 31 percent higher than in 2018. 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 the NPFMC will adjust the bycatch levels later this year to bring it in line with abundance levels. IPHC meeting information, documents, presentations, sessions recordings, and the report of the meeting are available at: https://www.iphc.int/venues/details/96th-session-of-the-iphc-annual-meeting-am096.