OUTDOORS: Halbut biomass down in Pacific Ocean, quota totals likely to fall

A HALIBUT QUOTA reduction is likely coming anglers’ way in 2018.

Sequim’s Dave Croonquist was first alerted to this potential reduction last week when he received an email from Southeast Alaska Guides and Outfitters indicating 2018 halibut quotas could be reduced up to 25 percent from 2017 catch guidelines.

“While the initial information came from Alaskan sources, I followed up with a note to my contacts at the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) office in Seattle,” Croonquist said.

“The final decision on the 2018 quotas will be made at the IPHC meeting in Portland, Ore., in January. It is very likely that the pounds available for harvest will not be what we saw last year.”

In his email to the IPHC, Croonquist asked IPHC Assistant Director Stephen Keith “Is there a potential that the 2018 quota for all US and Canadian waters could be cut by up to 25 percent or is the cut being looked at only for the Alaskan waters?”

Keith responded that the stock assessment is a coastwide analysis, “and because of reduced recruitment in the incoming year classes of fish it forecasts a reduced harvest available for the whole resource for 2018 (paper IPHC-2017-IM093-08). The draft catch tables described in paper IPHC-2017-IM093-09 are developed by applying a fishing intensity to the stock and distributing the catch among regulatory areas.

“As you can see in the papers, the interim harvest policy does suggest that cuts should be made across the range of the stock this year. The commission will consider this advice as well as stakeholder input when it makes catch limit decisions at the annual meeting.”

Those papers are available at tinyurl.com/PDN-IPHC1 and tinyurl.com/PDN-IPHC2.

Troubling drop

Alaska-based fisheries reporter Laine Welch reported this week that “Pacific halibut catches are likely to drop by 20 percent next year, and the declines could continue for several years.

“That could bring the coastwide catch for 2018, meaning from Oregon to British Columbia to the Bering Sea, to about 31 million pounds.”

That is down 400,000 pounds from the 31.4 million pounds shared by commercial and recreational anglers along the Pacific coast from California up to the Bering Sea in 2017. Washington’s 2017 recreational quota total was 237,762 pounds.

“Scientists at the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting in Seattle last week revealed that survey results showed halibut numbers were down 23 percent from last summer, and the total biomass dropped 10 percent,” Welch wrote.

“The surveys are done each year from May through September at nearly 1,500 stations from Oregon to the far reaches of the Bering Sea,”

IPHC Senior Scientist Ian Stewart said a lack of younger fish in the 9- to 18-year age range entering the fishery is an issue.

“In 2018, and especially projecting out to 2019, we are moving out of a fishery that is dominated by those relatively good recruitments starting in 1999 and extending to 2005. We see an increasing number of relatively poor recruitments stemming from at least 2009 and 2010,” he told Welch.

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Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or mcarman@peninsuladailynews.com.

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