Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Deadlocked: IPHC Fails to Agree on Halibut Catch Limits for 2018

"Worst Meeting Ever," says Commission Chair

ACA Board members Richard Yamada and Mike Flores have been in Portland, Oregon all week working at the International Pacific Halibut Commission's annual meeting.

There is a great deal of scientific concern abut the recruitment of juvenile fish into the Pacific Halibut stock. The Science team at the IPHC recommended significant reductions in harvest levels coast-wide. 

The Commission is made up with 3 Canadian representatives along with 3 Americans. There are several advisory boards including one from the processor industry and another from the directed fisheries called the Conference Board. 

Serious Conservation Concerns

Although fishermen are seeing good fishing now, the IPHC's stock surveys show that there is a serious decline in new year-classes of fish. Too much fishing at this point could dig a deep hole and risk "eating the seed corn." 

The Canadians resisted significant reductions despite the serious conservation concerns. They disagreed with the way the IPHC "apportions" or allocates fish between countries and regions. 

Six major commercial and recreational fishing associations, including the ACA, recommended taking the advice of the scientists and biting the bullet before it bites us. The Conference Board majority adopted recommended measures that are predicted to have a 93% chance of even lower stock levels next year. Canada sought catch levels for its fishermen that have a 99% chance of lower levels next year.

Sean McManus, of the Deep Sea Fishermens Union, warned against too much fishing pressure. "The fishermen who support higher levels of fishing than recommended aren't going to be around to take responsibility when the stock collapses. They won't blame themselves, they'll blame you" (the Commission.)

Stalemate

On the last day of the session, the Commission was unable to reach an agreement on the catch limits. When no agreement is reached, the regulations revert to the status quo of last year's regulations. That would cause grave risk to the overall resource, as many fishermen testified in public comment. 

The US agreed to take a reduction that would go halfway down to the science recommendations (which used to be called "The Blue Line.") Emotions were strained and Commissioners seemed near a breaking point on Friday. Canadian Commissioner Ryall made an emotional appeal to increase British Columbia's share of the overall allocation.

If the regulations are not approved by March 24th, according to NMFS Staffer Rachel Baker, the Secretary of Commerce can publish the US-suggested catch limits in the federal register as long as they are lower limits than the status quo (2017) regulations.

US Side Approves US Catch Limits

The Commissioners did set "suggested" catch limits for the charter sector in areas 2C and 3A. Assuming catch limits of 810,000 pounds for 2C and 1.79 million pounds for 3A, the regulations for 2018 would be as follows: 

PLEASE NOTE: THESE REGULATIONS ARE NOT FINALIZED (BUT LIKELY WILL BE):

2C: Reverse slot limit, U38-O80, and a one fish daily bag limit with no annual limit.

3A: One fish any size, second fish 28 inches or less. Four fish annual limit. Vessel and permit trip limits. Closed all Wednesdays, Tuesdays closed July 10 - August 14.

The Commissioners agreed to have a conference call in February. Hopefully they can put a stamp on an agreement. 

Terms of US Commissioners end March 31st. The Trump Administration is expected to make appointments before then. Nominations for the US seats on the Commission are being accepted now.


 

International Pacific Halibut Commission in Session