The International Pacific Halibut Commission has released the quotas for the 2023 season, and they seem to be more aligned with reality than the increases the past two years, with the IPHC describing the overall biomass as being at “historic lows.”
Quotas are down across the board in Alaska and Canada, especially in Areas 3A and 4A. The quotas for Alaska are: Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, 3.41 million pounds, down 2.85%; Area 3A, Central Gulf of Alaska, 7.84 million pounds, down 17.91%; Area 3B, Western Gulf of Alaska, 3.09 million pounds, down 7.76%; Area 4A, Eastern Aleutians, 1.41 million pounds, down 19.89%; Area 4B, Western Aleutians, 1.22 million pounds, down 4.69%; and Area 4CDE, Bering Sea and Pribilof Islands, 2.02 million pounds, down 1.94%.
Area 2B, British Columbia, also took a hit, with a quota of 5.03 million pounds, down 11.75%.
Area 2A, West Coast, was the only area to see an increase, with a quota of 880,000 pounds, up 2.33%.
Fishermen are becoming distrustful in the IPHC process, according to fisherman and fisheries advocate Buck Laukitis.
“The IPHC management process is more political than science-based,” he said via text. “Long-time fishermen and those interested in having something to catch a generation from now are losing confidence in an overly complicated and very political process.”
He urged long-time fishermen to look through their log books from 10-20 years ago and see what they were catching.
“It’s pathetic what they’re calling a ‘healthy stock.’ I think they’re betting on the come that some new year class is going to save the fishery,” Laukitis added, suggesting that high dock prices have kept most fishermen from questioning the management of the fishery.
Homer charter fishermen, who have bag and size limits, are also limited in how many days per week they can fish, and they lost several additional days. All Wednesdays have been closed to charter fishing for a few years, but last year only two Tuesdays were closed, and this season will see all Tuesdays between June 20 and Aug. 15 shut down.
Brian Ritchie, head of the Homer Charter Association, said that they supported the conservation measures in order to protect incoming recruitment to the coastwide stock. He acknowledged that the restrictions would have an impact on the entire community, but that “Analysis shows these measures provided a high likelihood of increased halibut abundance in near- and long-term projections.”
Ritchie also said that communicating with commercial fishermen in the area, especially the North Pacific Fisheries Association, was vital in the HCA’s advocacy for the lower harvest.
President of the NPFA Malcolm Milne agreed with Laukitis that politics has taken over the IPHC process, with Canada and the U.S. both having three votes, and it takes four to pass anything, which skews the politics.
“The negotiations between the U.S. and Canada overshadow the process. Canada insists on a higher percentage of the overall catch limit than the IPHC estimates show, leaving the U.S. regulatory areas to divide up what’s left in order to stick to a responsible harvest level,” Milne said. “Certain areas end up paying a disproportionate price to make up the difference.”
IPHC survey data shows that the three-year average of stock distribution shows that 12.1% of the stock are in Canadian waters, but Area 2B got 20% of the overall quota.
Cristy Fry can be reached at email@example.com.