IPHC Interim Halibut Meeting: The International Pacific Halibut Commission had their interim meeting on November 28 and 29 that gives the “state of the fishery” and the results of the summer survey. It also sets up the agenda for the Annual Meeting to be held in Portland, OR in January of 2018. There were some interesting items brought forth for discussion and analysis.
As you may remember, we had the original 15 survey sites brought back during 2017 and an additional 32 sites located below the 40 degree line down to the 37.5 line off San Francisco. While they didn’t reveal the weights achieved in the survey they had this to offer. One halibut was caught off San Francisco and one caught between the 39 line and the 40 line. From 40 to 42 degrees the weight per unit effort (WPUE) was similar to the rest of the 2A area (but that weight was not specified either). But, the good news is our North area is similar to the rest of 2A.
The Oregon (OR) area had solid survey results, but the Washington (WA) area was very poor due to a large low oxygen area from the Columbia River up the coast where no halibut were caught, in an area that usually has good catch history. This last happened in 2009, but was located off the OR coast. The 15 new survey sites the Tribes had requested in this WA area were all zero, so they were dropped from the survey results. This will affect the survey findings for this year when it comes to distribution of the halibut. Last year the 2A region was 2.2% of the halibut universe, and this year it is 1.9%.
Catch Results: The survey catch results were down substantially in 2A, 2B and 4A, with all but one area showing a drop in survey WPUE. However, the Commercial Catch WPUE was up in all areas. Of particular concern is that the Survey NPUE (number per unit effort) were way down in all areas, raising the concern that the younger fish are disappearing and only the older fish area out there. This is consistent with the poor recruitment that has been observed since 2010. The new Total Mortality Assessment and Distribution Model, has the 2A area recreational harvest being reduced from 520,000 lbs in 2017 down to 210,000 lbs projected for 2018. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure what a drop of 60% of our share will do to our time on the water. Canada, the 2B area, is also particularly hit hard. Mind you, these are not actions, just Staff reports and the final decision will be made in January at the Annual Meeting, but it’s going to be very ugly for distribution this year. The poor recruitment over the past seven years has the population starting to slide back to the 2012 low harvest years if we keep fishing at the same intensity. That was the bad news.
Halibut Identification: This was interesting, it seems that the spots on a halibut’s tail is a bit like a fingerprint and they are tagging halibut and taking pictures of the tail in a study to see if that can identify halibut caught at a later date. They’ve tagged over a thousand and hope to follow the results over the next several years. There are all numerous studies on growth as dependent upon temperature, food, salinity, etc to try to better identify environment factors affecting growth. There is a substantial list of research projects to be done over the next year or two.
Whale predation in the Bearing Sea Area is creating havoc for long liners, (kind of like sea lions on salmon for us). They are considering using pots to try to lessen the impact on the fishery.
Salmon: here is an interesting factoid having nothing to do with halibut. Pink salmon are showing up in the California runs this year; that’s never been seen before…straying no doubt! Some chum salmon are also showing up here and there, but that happens on occasion. The ocean conditions are moving the fish around it would seem!