US, Canada split on halibut quotas

The International Pacific Halibut Commission annual meeting ended last week with the two countries involved, the United States and Canada, unable to come to an agreement over quota cuts suggested by IPHC staff during the interim meeting in December.

Because the two sides could not agree, something that has only happened once before in the past 94 years, catch limits adopted by the IPHC in 2017 would remain in place, according to the IPHC website.

Malcolm Milne, halibut fisherman and president of Homer-based North Pacific Fisheries Association, attended the meeting, and said there were reasons the two sides could not agree.

“Both countries put forth numbers that they would each manage to domestically, instead of through the treaty organization, so they are going to take cuts, just take whatever cuts they want, because together they couldn’t come up with enough cuts to come to an agreement,” he said.

He added that what he saw was that the Canadians would not come far enough down; they wanted more pounds taken out of Alaska, Area 3A, and other areas.

“They wouldn’t bring their number close enough to the recommendation to be sufficient for the Americans.”

Milne added that the coast-wide survey, from Oregon to the Bering Sea, was really poor.

“There was a real dip in the stock, in the amount that we can harvest,” he said.

He said he went to the meeting with an open mind, but the big take-away was that two pieces of data showed that the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl surveys both were markedly down in numbers of halibut and weight of halibut, which followed what the setline surveys showed.

“It made it scary,” Milne said.

He said the weight per unit of effort in Canadian waters in 2017 was down 23 percent, and the number per unit of effort was down 39 percent.

The big question is who decides, and how, the quotas are decided for the upcoming season.

Milne said both the Canadian and U.S. sides will put their numbers up, and that was the number they would manage to.

Because there is little or no precedence for this situation, it leaves up in the air when the halibut season will open, let alone what the quota will be.

“I am hoping that both the U.S. and Canada will eventually agree to follow the harvest advice from the IPHC and go with the science,” Milne said.

Cristy Fry can be reached at