This week, North Pacific halibut fishermen got some bad news with the release of preliminary recommendations to cut the overall quota by 19 percent.
However, fishermen in Area 2C, near Petersburg, Alaska, were devastated by a proposed cut of 47 percent, from 4.4 million pounds to 2.33 million. Area 3A, considered the breadbasket of the fishery, is seeing a 5.63 million pound recommended cut, as well. Meanwhile, Canadian fishermen who share a coastline with those in Area 2C will likely see a quota increase.
It strikes me as inexcusable to cut anyone's livelihood by 47 percent — especially in this economic climate — short of catastrophic or imminent stock failure.
Ultimately, this slashing is a recommendation based on stock surveys. The International Pacific Halibut Commission may not enforce the full 47 percent cut. But that doesn't eliminate some of the questions that arise when the commission staff goes from trimming back quotas to slamming on the brakes.
Quotas should be based on data, but that should not be the only determination. These cuts absolutely will put people out of business. So the question is, is it worth it? How do you weigh the risk of fishing a declining stock against the risk of putting people out of work? How likely is the stock to stay down? Do we know what's keeping it down? Are we cutting back on fishing because it's the easy target? Is that the right approach?
Some would say yes, unequivocally, because it's the easy thing to control. And while I believe meeting in the middle is the only fair way to get things done in an inherently unfair world, I also believe you shimmy your way to the brink if the line toward the middle is redrawn year after year.
If a strictly managed fishery with an annual stock survey requires a nearly 50 percent reduction in quota, then something besides fishing is causing a shift in the ecosystem.
It remains to be seen what the IPHC will decide in the coming weeks and how it will address the inconsistency of American and Canadian quota recommendations. At very least I hope the guidelines the commission uses to determine the quotas will be more transparent.
Thank you for your time.
Editor in Chief, National Fisherman