Alaska halibut fishermen are breathing a sigh of relief after the International Pacific Halibut Commission either raised or held the line on halibut quotas statewide, but not everyone agrees with the decision.
The 2017 quotas for Alaska waters are:
• Area 2C, Southeast, 5.25 million pounds, up 6.1 percent. Of that, 915,000 pounds goes to the directed sport fishery.
• Area 3A, Central Gulf of Alaska, 10 million pounds, up 4.2 percent. Of that, 1.89 million pounds goes to the directed sport fishery.
• Area 3B, Western GOA, 3.14 million pounds, up 15.9 percent.
• Area 4A, Eastern Aleutians, steady at 1.39 million pounds.
• Area 4B, Western Aleutians, 1.14 million pounds, steady.
• Area 4CDE, Bering Sea/Pribilofs, 1.7 million pounds, up slightly from 1.66 million.
In addition, commercial and sport catches in Canada, Washington, Oregon and California add up to 8.78 million pounds, bringing the total removals by directed fisheries to 31.4 million pounds.
However, those do not include removals by mortality (fish that die for reasons other than harvest), bycatch and other means.
While bycatch mortality is the lowest since the 1970s, it is still a significant portion of the overall removals of halibut biomass, which comes to well over 43 million pounds under the 2017 plan.
Considering total removals, Homer-based North Pacific Fisheries Association has taken a stand against the increase in quotas.
NPFA and the Deep Sea Fisherman’s Union were the only two groups to oppose the quota increases.
They cited language in the IPHC “Outlook” document, which reads: “The stock is projected to decrease gradually over the period from 2018-20 for removals around 40 million pounds. The risk of stock declines begins to increase rapidly for levels of harvest above 40 million pounds of total mortality, becoming more pronounced by 2020.”
The so-called “blue line,” what is generally agreed to be the IPHC staff recommendations, shows that at a removal of 37.9 million pounds, there is a 56 percent chance of halibut stock decline in 2018 and a 77 percent chance of stock decline by 2020.
“Uncertainty in the stock assessment models should breed conservative catch limits, not aggressive ones,” an NPFA release stated. “ At a historical lower level of estimated abundance we support a harvest level that promotes growth of the spawning biomass, not a projected decline.”
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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