Commercial halibut fishermen were hit with some distressing news after the International Pacific Halibut Commission held their interim meeting and staff suggested some sharp cuts to quotas for 2018, and it is likely to get worse.
While documents from the meeting do not break down the so-called “decision table” by area, it does suggest a possible drop of 20 percent in quotas coast-wide (Oregon to the Bering Sea). Some areas will see more of a drop than others.
The setline surveys conducted in 2017 showed a 24 percent drop in numbers per skate coast-wide, and a 10 percent drop in weight per skate. While the stock size was only down 2 percent from the last assessment, they said projections indicate much less yield available in the near future.
Commercial landings accounted for 62 percent of removals in 2017, with recreational removals accounting for 19 percent. The bycatch mortality was 14 percent of removals, down from 17 percent in 2016, and down nearly 3 million pounds from 2014. Discard mortality and subsistence made up the rest with 3 percent each.
The fish are still coming in smaller for their age, a trend that started several years ago.
Ecosystem factors, a new category for the meeting, suggest that the “warm blob” in the Pacific Ocean could be partly responsible for decline, citing blooms of a gelatinous sea creature normally found in tropic waters, pyrosomes, showing up in Alaskan waters, and deeper than normal.
They also make note of mass seabird die-offs, whale strandings, the poor physical condition of Pacific Cod in the Gulf of Alaska, with the cod trawl survey down 83 percent between 2013 and 2017. The GOA arrowtooth flounder survey was also down 36 percent.
The sablefish quota is expected to increase; however, they generally live in deeper water that may not be affected by the blob.
Some commercial fishermen are disputing the results of the IPHC surveys, saying they are seeing more and larger fish than in recent history.
Doug Bowen, of Alaska Boats and Permits, said fishing in area 3B, western Gulf of Alaska, was so good that “they would come in to deliver, and then come to my office wanting to buy more 3B IFQ’s.”
The Annual Meeting of the IPHC takes place Jan. 22-26 at the Hilton Downtown in Portland, Oregon.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.