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2018 halibut regulations still to be determined: Int’l Pacific Halibut Commission unable to agree on harvest limits during annual meeting

Daily News Staff Writer

After the International Pacific Halibut Commission was unable to agree on halibut catch limits for 2018 in its January meeting, the responsibility for setting the limits has fallen to domestic regulators.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency now responsible for Alaska catch limits, aims to have regulations in place for the season’s March 24 opening, according to NMFS spokespersons. NMFS has revealed little about how it will set the limits, though they are expected to decrease from those of 2017.

The IPHC is a U.S.-Canadian entity responsible for maintaining halibut stocks along the Pacific Coast from California through Alaska. The commission’s annual meeting ran from Jan. 22 to 26.

January’s meeting was especially noteworthy due to recent concerns about the strength of halibut stocks. IPHC staff has recorded a 10-percent drop in halibut abundance by weight, and they have serious concerns about the health of younger halibut — a sign of trouble on the horizon.

The commission did manage to set dates for the season (March 24 – Nov. 7), and the commissioners set catch limit recommendations for their respective countries. Commissioners from both sides also agreed that lower limits than those of 2017 should be implemented.

The U.S. commissioners recommended a limit of 6.34 million pounds TCEY for Southeast Alaska, a roughly 16-percent reduction from 2017’s limit. TCEY, or total constant exploitation yield, is total removals of all legal-sized halibut.

According to IPHC Commissioner Linda Behnken of Alaska, the U.S. commissioners intended for their limits to fall roughly halfway between 2017’s limits and the reference level catch limits identified by the staff for 2018.

While NMFS hasn’t indicated how its limits might differ from those recommended by the commission, IPHC Assistant Director Stephen Keith said the limits will likely resemble the commission’s suggestions.

“In theory, [the limits could differ] a lot, but in practice, not much,” Keith said.

Behnken also believes the numbers will closely follow the recommendations, though she said NMFS process differs in that it’s more complicated and lengthy than that of the IPHC.

“There’s some concern about them getting everything in place in that time, but they’re committed to doing all they can to make it by that date,” she said.