The international commission that oversees catches of halibut along the Pacific coast opened up a week-long meeting Monday. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will be deciding on catch limits, other proposed changes to management and season length though Friday in Victoria, British Columbia.

“The way we apportion the resource it’s been probably the subject of the most dissatisfaction on the U.S. side over the past couple of years,” said U.S. commissioner and vice-chair Jim Balsiger at the start of the meeting Monday. “All the commissioners I believe on both sides are anxious to come to grips with that, find a harvest policy and apportionment method that works for everybody that we can explain to the people who use the resource and make some progress on that.”

Photo from the International Pacific Halibut Commission

Photo from the International Pacific Halibut Commission

The IPHC sets catch limits for commercial, charter and subsistence fishing along the coast from California to Alaska. Some of the contention that Balsiger referred to in recent years has been over catch limits set in area 2B along the BC coast and area 2C in Southeast Alaska. Commercial fishermen in Southeast Alaska have been upset with the commission setting catch limits higher in British Columbia and not making similar allowances on this side of the border. Alaska commercial fish groups and businesses submitted a letter to the commission asking for a consistent harvest rate.

“I think one of the comments in the letter that was presented from the Southeast groups was that we’d like to see a more even harvest rate across all of area 2,” said Dan Falvey of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, among those signing that letter. “In the last three years one of the areas has definitely taken a much higher harvest rate and I think that’s been possible because all the other areas have been kept low,” Falvey told the commission. “So one of our goals this year is to evaluate what area 2 would look like with a more consistent harvest policy across the three sub-regions.”

Scientists with the commission are reporting a steady, slow increase in the halibut stock coast wide. However, commercial fleets on the BC coast and Southeast Alaska both could be seeing cuts to their catch limits this year. Scientists have changed the way they interpret survey fishing for the valuable bottom fish and now think more of the halibut stocks are in the central Gulf of Alaska and western part of the state.

BC fisherman Doug Mavin told the commission that catches have been strong for the Canadian fleet. “Now there isn’t one Canadian guy that wants to take a fish away from the American guys, we don’t wanna be pitted against each other, it’s not about that,” Mavin said. “The simple fact of the matter is that we have an abundance of fish in Canada and we feel that we’re being held back.”

Among the different parts of the coast, Area 3A, the central Gulf of Alaska, could be seeing the largest increase in catch limits in the upcoming year.

Coast-wide in 2016, just under 42 million pounds of halibut was landed in commercial and sport fisheries and as bycatch in fisheries targeting other species.
The commission is scheduled to decide on Friday the catch limit coast wide and for the various areas along with season starting and ending dates and other changes to fishing rules. The meeting is being webcast.