Smaller quotas could be on the horizon for US, Canadian West Coast halibut
Managers are considering lowering U.S. and Canadian West Coast halibut quotas on reports that current fishing levels in the Pacific Ocean could lead to declining stocks in the coming years.
Scientists monitoring the bottom fish for the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) found fewer younger halibut in Pacific waters from Alaska to California this year, meaning current fishing levels could deplete stocks.
According to new numbers, the total West Coast halibut catch in 2017 dropped about 24 percent from the previous year. The total halibut catch in 2017 was 26.2 million pounds, with around six million pounds scooped up in bycatch.
Despite lower overall numbers, some districts saw a bump in catch totals. The results came from an annual survey conducted between May and September at hundreds of counting stations up and down the West Coast.
IPHC commissioners and scientists met in Seattle in late November, where the low recruitment prompted talk of possibly dropping quotas.
Also on the IPHC docket is a possible change in size limit restrictions on halibut catch. Currently, commercially caught halibut under 32 inches must be thrown back, but a drop in average sizes has sparked debate as to whether the size limit should be lowered or completely scrapped. The 32-inch size limit has been in place since 1974.
IPHC scientists who have studied commercial harvest of smaller halibut believe it could lead to higher retention at lower fuel and supply costs without hurting spawning populations.
IPHC manages commercial and charter halibut catch in U.S. and Canadian fisheries, with commissioners setting catch levels and size limits based on data collected by staff scientists.
The commission will make decisions on future quotas and size limits at their annual meeting in Portland, Oregon in January, 2018.