Strong halibut catches in Alaska leading to higher quotas
After years of slashed quotas, the Alaskan halibut fishery is enjoying a second year of growth in 2016.
The 2016 quota share commercial halibut fisheries opened on 19 March with a fleet-wide quota of 18.16 million pounds. The quota is up from 17.93 million pounds in 2015 and 16.75 million pounds in 2014.
Quota improvements have also been seen in British Columbia, Canada. The 2016 B.C. quota is 6.20 million pounds up from 5.91 million pounds in 2015 and 5.79 million pounds in 2014.
“We’ve been on a bit of decrease since the peak of the halibut stock abundance in the late 1990s, but last year  saw the first year of an increase in quite a number of years,” said Bruce Leaman, the executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, the public international organization responsible for managing the fisheries.
IPHC released its latest landing report on 21 June, 2016, and to that date, catch rates have been similar to last year. Alaskan fishermen have landed 8.8 million pounds of halibut, or 48 percent of the 2016 commercial fishery catch limit. At this same date last year 8.8 million pounds had been harvested, representing 49 percent of the 2015 catch limit.
“[The fishing is] about on par with what we’ve seen other years in terms of how quickly the quota is being caught,” Leaman said.
He went on to predict a lull in halibut landings during the summer as many vessels leave off halibut fishing to pursue salmon and other species caught during shorter management periods.
Reports from the grounds also suggest the fishing has been strong.
“We had good strong fishing and I’ve been hearing other fishermen from [Southeast] talk about fishing being good,” said Linda Behnken, a fisherman and executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.
Behnken said the association hopes that the successful fishing and the recent quota increases are indicative of overall stock improvements. IPHC surveyors are currently surveying halibut stocks from California to the Bering Sea. If they see improved recruitment to the adult stock, it could eventually lead to a bigger uptick in the quota.
“We’re anxiously waiting to see what those results are,” Leaman said.