Commission cuts Pacific halibut quotas based on sex study

Published on
February 17, 2020

As expected, the International Pacific Halibut Commission set quotas down for 2020 at its annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska last week.

Quotas for Pacific halibut will be reduced by just over 5 percent this year as a result of declining stocks. Alaska’s share of the 36.6-million-pound total catch is 28.13 million pounds for all user groups. The halibut fishery will open on 14 March and close on 15 November.

Industry leaders predicted late in 2019 that the fishery had maxed out its value proposition and likely would not be able to expect a higher dock price to make up for a lower quota.

The commission states the primary reason for the quota cut is to protect the breeding stock after documenting a higher rate of females caught than once believed.

New data from the commission show that the sex ratio of the commercial catch ranged from 81 to 97 percent female in some regions.

In an effort to collect better data on the sex-ratio of the catch, the commission developed two new methods of data collection.

One method relied on commercial fishing crews to physically mark fish before dressing out the fish. Females got two parallel cuts in the dorsal fin, while males got one cut in the gill covering on the white side of the fish.

Commission biologists also worked with researchers at the University of Washington to develop a DNA test for sex based on small fin clips. The DNA method was first used to validate the accuracy of the physical marking. By 2019, the DNA sampling method proved to be both more accurate and efficient.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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