The North Coast will see a slight increase in Halibut this summer. At the IPHC meeting in Juneau last week, the Commission yielded to the pressure put on them by the advisory bodies and the Tribes and again gave us an increase over the Science recommended amount. It’s an interesting process and it goes on all week. The Staff first modeled all the survey results from the summer. Then they prepared a Risk Table that is based upon harvest intensity, population biomass, spawning biomass and the probability of where any given amount of harvest poundage will likely cause an increase or drop in one and three years of biomass based upon their decision. It’s a composite table blended with four different models, two short term and two long term models. Why four? Because none of them by themselves is accurate for any extended period of time; hence a blended model to lower the risk of the decision making process.
Based upon the current Harvest Policy Regulations the staff recommended the harvest intensity to be at 51%, or a fishery harvest level (FCEY) of 26.2 metric tons (mt) for 2016. The total mortality would be at 38.7 mt when research, by-catch kill and commercial fishery wastage is all added in. But that is just a starting point. The advisory groups all meet and lobby with each other and hammer out what they think should be the allocation for all the different sectors, based upon what they are seeing on the fishing grounds, the past harvest levels and of course the politics of the process (and that is an interesting sideline). Not to belabor this discussion, the Conference Board (CB) consisting of all the harvesters (commercial, longline, charters, recreational and subsistence fishermen) made recommendation for 31.7 mt for the fishery harvest. The Processors Group (PAG) recommended 32.6 mt for the FCEY. On the risk table, these higher harvest levels would suggest about 70% chance that we would be overfishing and the stock would drop in both a one year and three year period. The Commission listens to all these recommendations and goes behind closed doors and announces Friday morning what they have all agreed upon. The Commissions divides the baby (so to speak) and modifies the request of the CB, the PAG with the Risk Table and decided upon a level a few million pounds more, namely 29.89 mt for the FCEY. That would put the total mortality about 42 mt, which is pushing the Risk Table above the 50% recommendation. That relates to about a 63% chance that we will harvest more than we should. The Risk Table shoots for 50% as their target, so that you have a 50% chance of being over or under the science suggested amount of harvest. Realize that because the annual recruitment is not known for about 7 years until they grow big enough (26 inches) to be picked up in the survey, it’s a decision in the blind. Is there science involved? Yes, of course, but it’s definitely NOT an exact science. There are many unknowns is this process due to migration, recruitment, by-catch mortality and unknown mortality.
The wrinkle in all of this is Canada, the 2B region. Canada doesn’t like the assessment decisions, doesn’t agree with the allocation (15.3%) of the harvest biomass and votes as a block against all the other sectors; and they have 50% of the voting power at the Commission. Effectively, they can stonewall the process and extort more than their fair share, and that’s exactly what they do. They bully the USA commissioners into giving them a few more million pounds than the science suggests they should get and that creates heartburn for the Alaskans to the north of them. It’s not a friendly process when all is said and done.
2A Allocation and harvest amounts: The Pacific States were well represented with Tribes and California having a goodly number of folks sitting at the table. The Tribes have Consultation Rights with the Commission, since they are a Nation unto themselves, and put the pressure on the Commission that 2A is not getting a proper share of the fish. Additionally, the survey in 2A had some very high poundage results, surprisingly so in fact. Additionally, the California area below the 39 line was increased to add 2,000 square nautical miles to the 2A area, so that our density multiplier provides more poundage. The Risk Model suggested 2A for a 1.02 mt allocation (FCEY), the Tribes wanted 1.32, the CB suggested 1.33mt and the PAG suggested 1.42 mt. The Commission settled upon 1.14 mt, a 170,000 lb increase over last year. The California portion of that comes to 29,620 lbs (25,220 lbs was the 2015 allocation), so we will get about 4200 lbs more this year. This is based upon the 4% of the non-tribal allocation formula. The 2A harvest allocation has increased from 2.1% to 2.4% to the current 2.88% of the survey biomass amount due to the new surveys and area extension into California. We are headed in the right direction, but we still have more work to do to get our 4% elevated to 7-8% of the non-tribal portion.
The Season Structure will stay the same as last year with the 1st to the 15th of May, June, July and August open for Pacific Halibut. If there are still halibut to be caught after August 15th (not likely), upon September 1st the season is open until the allocation is harvested or October 31.
ROCKFISH SEASON AND BAG LIMIT:
The rockfish season dates and bag limits should stay the same as last year from a brief conversation I had with CDFW Staff at the time of this writing. The black rockfish biomass is still a concern to them, based upon the Stock Assessment done in 2015. It’s probable that they may reduce the harvest level from last year’s 400 mt amount (that is sports and commercial). With the reduction from 10 to 5 black rockfish in the bag limit for 2015, the harvest was reduced from well over 230 mt to about 184 mt according to the rec-fin harvest levels. Considering in 2014 we harvested 186 mt over the sports share of the allocation (about 230+186 mt) the restriction in bag limit had a dramatic effect in harvest reduction. Bear in mind in 2015, we “borrowed” 75 mt of black rockfish from the commercial sector, but I don’t think that will happen again this year. CDFW is preparing for the March PFMC meeting currently, and it’s unknown if they will hold a meeting up here in late February or early March to speak with us about the season structure and bag limit. I suspect that for 2016, it will be the same as 2015, but there may be some reductions in the 2017 season. That’s all I can tell you at the moment.
Lingcod fishing was terrific last year, and that should be the same for this year. For those with some patience and skills, there are other rockfish to be caught off our coast other than blacks, if you develop the methods to catch them. Coppers, gophers, china, vermilion, blues, greenling and cabezon are healthy and are available, if you can avoid the blacks to get to them. REMEMBER TO CARRY AND USE A DESCENDING DEVICE IF YOU RETURN ROCKFISH TO REDUCE BAROUTRAUMA MORTALITY. Hopefully, we can fish petrale at all depths this year, and black cod and whiting will be added to our all depth group. I’m not sure of the status on the petrale, black cod and whiting, but those management changes are in the pipeline for action. With all the changes at the Fish and Game Commission happening over the past few months, I’m not sure of the progress of these requests.
I wish I could give you some news, but I don’t know what is happening yet. The 1st Salmon Report to the PFMC March meeting has yet to be published, but the last two years of smolt mortality can’t be of any help. I don’t have high hopes for a good season, but we’ll know in about another month. The PFMC will set some alternatives for ranges of harvest at the March meeting and send these choices out to the public for review and comment. The final harvest values and season structure will be adopted at the April meeting. CDFW will announce the State meeting fairly soon, that I think is going to be held in Ft. Bragg this year, but don’t hold me to that one. I’m basically a groundfish guy, but I thought you might like a head’s up on the salmon status.