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Halibut, Sablefish and other fixed-gear commercial fishing

Second Consecutive Year of Halibut Stock Decline

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) last week released its 2018 Halibut stock assessment and presented its findings at the 94th Annual Interim Meeting held in Seattle November 27-28th.

The IPHC stock status report called Fishery Independent Setline Survey (FISS) shows a second consecutive year of decrease in Halibut stock, representing a 7% decrease overall from the 2017 levels.

The United States and Canada signed what is termed the Halibut Treaty in 1923 regarding both countries Pacific Halibut fishing rights. The treaty established the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) as a mechanism for the joint management of the Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) which, not unile today, was in severe decline.

Pacific Halibut are captured from the depths of the north Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea in a number of ways. The fish are primarily targeted by the commercial longline fishery and by sport fishers, as well as taken for personal use (subsistence).

Additional mortality occurs in the form of bycatch in commercial fisheries targeting other species that are not allowed to retain Pacific Halibut. Over the last century, Pacific Halibut removals from all sources have ranged annually from 34 to 100 million pounds (15,422 to 45,359 t), with an average of 63 million pounds (28,576 t).

Total removals in 2017 were 42.8 million pounds (18,960 t), up slightly from 2016 and below the 100-year average. In 2017, an estimated 26.6 million pounds (11,605 t) were landed from commercial fisheries, 7.9 million pounds (3,587 t) from recreational fisheries, 6.0 million pounds (2,720 t) from bycatch, and 1.2 million pounds (530 t) from subsistence. 

Last year's U.S. and Canadian harvest was low, only 41.3 million pounds, which includes high levels of bottom trawl Halibut bycatch.

Earlier this year, U.S. and Canadian representatives in the (IPHC) were unable to reach an agreement on the establishment of new catch limits for Halibut, so the catch limits for 2017 remained in place.

January 28 thru February 1, 2019 U.S. and Canadian negotiators will try again to reach an accord over how much Halibut may be harvest between both countries during this time of environmental uncertainty and declining abundance of Pacific Halibut.

James Johnson