The IPHC (International Pacific Halibut Commission) held its Interim meeting in Seattle, where the 2018 Reference Catch Table was released. It was based on an average past harvest SPR (Spawning Potential Ratio) of 46%. Simply put, this means we would have a fishing intensity to leave a potential of 46% of the females left in the fishable stock available to contribute to future stocks. In 2017, while the Commission aimed at 45%, the end result was closer to 38%. With this reference harvest rate (in the past this was known as the Blue Line), Area 3A charter allocation under the CSP (Catch Sharing Plan) is 1.7 Mlbs. a reduction of 10% from last year and Area 2C is .69 Mlbs. a 25% drop from last year.
What does this mean for charter regulations for 2018? For Area 3A, harvest measures would need to be more restrictive to reduce harvest by 18.6% (this includes accounting for an overharvest of allocation from last year). This might mean closing more days of fishing, decreasing annual limits, or moving to a one fish daily bag limit including these restrictions. For Area 2C, a reduction of 25% in allocation from last year might mean reducing the lower slot to 35" with an annual limit of three fish or 40" with an annual limit of two. The Charter Halibut Management Committee (CHMC) will meet December 4
in Anchorage to make their recommendation to the North Council.
Why such a drastic reduction in catch limits? Ian Stewart, lead scientist for the IPHC, explained while the current stock abundance has been stable as well as catch effort (a metric used to measure stock abundance), the number of fish being caught per unit of effort has sharply declined. He explained this indicates we are currently fishing on larger and older fish from a past large recruitment year class. The fish following this year class are smaller and fewer and thus the reason for a declining future outlook of halibut abundance. Of course the Commissioners at their January meeting will need to decide the level of harvest and risk they want to take for 2018. They may decide to take a position below or above the SPR of 46%. The CHMC will have to give recommendations for each of these potential outcomes as well.