International managers of Pacific halibut have lowered the overall catch limit for 2023 to 36,970,000 pounds, down 4,250,000 pounds from last year’s coastwide limit of 41,220,000 pounds, due to concerns over the declining number of fish.
The decision of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, at its late January meeting in Vancouver, hit hardest at Area 3A, the Central Gulf of Alaska, which historically is the largest area of the whole West Coast in terms of biomass, said Kurt Iverson, a fisheries management special with NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Data showing 18% fewer halibut coastwide and a 15% drop in the catch per unit effort (CPUE) is of great concern not just to the IPHC, but to the stakeholders themselves, Iverson said.
For Area 3A, IPHC managers from the United States and Canada approved a 17% drop in the harvest limit, to 12,080,000 pounds, down 2,470,000 pounds from last year’s harvest limit of 14,550,000 pounds. Alaska sectors of the IPHC saw an overall drop in allowable catch from 32,010,000 pounds to 28,540,000 pounds, a decline of 10.8%. The overall coastwide reduction in allowable catch was 10.3%.
Only Area 2A, which includes Washington, Oregon and California, was again approved for its 2022 catch limit of 1,650,000 pounds of halibut.
Survey data considered in deciding harvest limits showed that the weight at age for halibut over 32 inches in length continues to decline. It is still relatively comparable to the 1990s and 2000s, but has slightly increased in the last couple of years, Iverson said. “There was near unanimous consensus from stakeholders that reductions in harvest from last year were warranted,” he said. “The IPHC and stakeholders are concerned with circumstances, the decline in numbers of fish, and the decline is CPUE, and we are relying right now on two age classes of fish, from 2012 and from 2005,” he said.
Recruitment of fish between 2005 and 2012 was very poor and a cause of concern. “As these 2005 fish age out of circulation, we are depending on 2012 fish,” Iverson said, “We don’t know how recruitment of young fish is coming. We don’t have good information on their level of abundance after 2012.”
The IPHC also added restrictions for the charter halibut fisheries in Areas 3A and 2C, the latter for Southeast Alaska. In Area 3A, which includes Cordova, charter halibut customers will be restricted to two fish a day and one of those fish must be 28 inches or less. Charter fishing on Wednesdays is closed for the entire season and Tuesdays from June 2 through Aug. 15. Wednesdays have been closed for several years and Tuesdays have been closed in the past as well, but never before for this many Tuesdays, Iverson said.
Charter fishing in Area 2C was reduced to one fish per day and that fish must be 40 inches in length or less. Mondays, which were never before restricted to closed days, were closed to charter halibut fishing from July 24 through the end of the season.