International halibut commission avoids impasse, sets catch limits

Feb 1, 2019

Pacific halibut.
Credit Rudy Gustafson

After some uncertainty, U.S. and Canadian commissioners on the International Pacific Halibut Commission agreed on catch limits for halibut fisheries from California to Alaska Friday.

Disagreements over how much of the overall catch is harvested along the coast of British Columbia led to an impasse last year, and going into this week’s meeting, commissioners still had not found middle ground.

U.S. Commissioner Chris Oliver said he was happy the commission adverted another disagreement.

“I was very eager to do so because I feel like if we had come out of this meeting again with an inability to reach consensus, that it would be extremely negative in terms of frankly the reputation of this international management body,” Oliver said, “and to the implications to our numerous constituents.”

The main sticking point between commissioners was the percentage the commission’s current harvest policy allocated to Canada’s lone regulatory area. The policy suggested that Canadian fishermen should harvest roughly 12 percent of the commercial catch along on the West Coast in 2019.

In recent years, Canadians have taken home roughly 20 percent of the catch, a number U.S. commissioners say is too high.

Oliver detailed the new agreement to set catch limits in Canadian waters over the next four years, which is when the commission is likely to revamp its harvest policy.

The Canadian catch limit will mostly be determined by the recent historical average in area 2B and partially by the IPHC’s current harvest policy.  

“For 2019, that equates to a share of 17.7 percent. We had a lot of discussions about the recent historical averages for that area versus using the apportionment model,” Oliver explained. “That was what we believed was a reasonable approach to weighting those two factors moving forward.”

That leaves Canadian commercial fishermen with about 5.1 million pounds in 2019, a slight decrease from last year. Overall, U.S. and Canadian commercial fishermen will be allowed to harvest nearly 25 million pounds, a roughly 6-percent increase over 2018.

The commercial harvest limit in Southeast Alaska will stay relatively flat at 3.6 million pounds.

“We elected to move some of the fish from the other U.S. management areas into 2C to get them back to the level it was the previous year, basically in the interest of stability,” Oliver added.

Area 3A in the central Gulf of Alaska will see a modest bump with a roughly 8 million pound commercial limit. This year’s season will run March 15 through Nov. 14.