Scientists Unveil Draft Halibut Limits For 2012

Scientists are calling for another substantial reduction in the coast-wide commercial halibut catch. During a meeting Wednesday in Seattle, the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s staff unveiled recommendations for an overall drop of 19 percent from this year. IPHC Scientist Stephen Hare started his presentation on this year’s halibut assessment with a sobering sentiment.

Overall, researchers have seen a decade-long decline in the amount of halibut that are big enough to keep the exploitable biomass. They say the number of individual fish is up, but the fish are much smaller than they used to be.

Under the IPHC staff recommendations for 2012, most fishing regions would see cuts but Southeast Alaska could actually see a slight increase of about 13 percent or 300 thousand pounds. That may come as a little relief for panhandle longliners who have lost nearly 80 percent of their quota in the last six years. Southeast charter operators have also been affected in the past few years with the implementation of a one fish bag limit and…this past season….a minimum size restriction….for their client’s fish.

The IPHC has also been considering whether it’s been conservative enough in managing the halibut stocks in past years and staff presented the commission with an alternative set of potential limits aimed at making up for previous overestimates. In that scenario, all fishing areas could see much larger cuts of 50 percent or more.

The staff recommendations are the beginning of the debate and deliberation for the Halibut Commissioners, who will not decide on the numbers until their annual meeting in January.

The staff’s 2012 catch recommendations for each area include:

989,000 pounds in the Pacific Northwest area 2A which is up 8.7%.

6,633,000 pounds in British Columbia area 2B which is down 13.3%.

2,624,000 pounds in area 2C which is up 12.6%.

11,918,000 pounds in the Central Gulf Area 3A which is down 17 %.

5,070,000 pounds in the Western Gulf Area 3B which would be a drop of about 32 %.

1,567,000 pounds in the Aleutians area 4A which is down about 35 %.

2,180,000 pounds in the Aleutians area 4B which is 14 % down.

And 2,465,000 pounds in the Bering Sea areas 4C, D, and E a reduction of about 34 %.

More details should soon be available in a news release on the Halibut Commission website at

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Matt Lichtenstein is a reporter at KFSK in Petersburg.

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