IPHC defends quota decrease plan

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2010

The International Pacific Halibut Commission explained its preliminary staff recommendations for 2011, in which the quota for Area 2C cut nearly in half.

However, that explanation did not do much to alleviate the concerns and frustrations of some local people in the halibut industry.

IPHC Executive Director Bruce Leaman explained some of the reasoning behind how IPHC makes its recommendations in an e-mail to the Empire. He referred particularly to Area 2C, where the preliminary catch recommendations are for 2.33 million pounds, well down from 2010's 4.4-million-pound limit.

He said there are significant changes for 2011 that led to the quota shift. Among the largest is the move to the Slow Up-Full Down approach to harvest control. He said the previous Slow Up-Fast Down approach took in 50 percent "between next year's FCEY and last year's catch limit." FCEY refers to fishery constant exploitation yield.

He said this approach is fine over the long term, with both increasing and decreasing stocks, but with long-term declining stocks it wouldn't achieve the correct harvest rate.

"Moving to the (slow-up, full down method) means we should actually achieve the correct harvest rate in each year," he said.

Another change leading to the quota decrease is a direct deduction in the yield table for bycatch and wastage mortality (BAWM) between 26 and 32 inches in the area of capture. Bycatch refers to non-targeted species caught and returned while fishing for halibut, while wastage refers to sub-legal halibut caught and returned.

Leaman said, "The reason we are recommending changing to the direct deduction method is to have a consistent framework for dealing with subsistence, sport and BAWM in the 26-32 in range. Until now, we have been treating subsistence and sport removals the same as commercial (i.e., > 32 in) and that has been OK because as I just noted, the effect is the same either way we do it, but BAWM of the same size has been part of the harvest rate. Now, the removals are treated the same."

He said since such removals have previously been treated as part of the harvest rate, and that the target harvest rate is lower to account for the loss of these fish.

He said the direct deduction increases the harvest rate to 21.5 percent, which increases the total constant exploitation yield but decreases the available yield and "the effect of the increased harvest rate is almost totally taken away in Area 2C because that BAWM is not very large in 2C (about [320,000] lbs)."

Leaman concludes the e-mail with, "... in essence, we are not suggesting anything like a 47% decline in biomass. Indeed, it looks as if we might be leveling out in Area 2C. The decline in the case of Area 2C is primarily the issue of the Commission's desire to achieve the target harvest rate and coming down from a catch limit that was artificially high, relative to the biomass."

He said this leveling out comes after an uninterrupted decline in weight per unit efforts (WPUEs) since around 1985. He said commercial and survey WPUEs were relatively stable this year, however the stock is still down from that decline. He said that in comparing either the total CEY or fishery CEY between 2010 and 2011, Area 2C's estimated biomass hasn't changed much, saying it is down some but the higher harvest rate makes the TCEY numbers very similar.

In comparing Area 2C to others, Leaman stated it has gone through more dramatic declines than some, such as the larger, neighboring Area 2B, making 2B's biomass higher. Area 2B's WPUE has also increased while it has not in Area 2C. He said 2C's situation has also worsened because the adopted catch limits over the past several years have been above the staff's Slow Up Fast Down recommendations and the sport charter fishery has removed more than 500,000 pounds more per year than it should. He said all of these factors went into the staff's 2011 recommendation.

"For reference, if we used this year's data and followed exactly the procedures we followed for the 2010 recommendations, the recommended catch limit would be 3.34 (million pounds)," Leaman wrote.

Taku Fisheries/Smokeries vice president and general manager Eric Norman said IPHC has changed its assessment methods many times over the past six to eight years, and while they may be more accurate than previous methods, the changes are still frustrating to those in the fishing industry.

"We all need to be good stewards of the resource to ensure that the future of the fishery is stable. The commission does state that we should now be at a stable harvest level in this region," Norman said in an e-mail.

Still, he's concerned with the decline here plus in Area 3A, where Taku's fishermen also harvest halibut. He said the reduction will affect local incomes by millions and take work away from seafood processors.

"There isn't much left to cut since we have dropped from 10.9 million lbs to a proposed 2.2 million lbs. Juneau will no doubt see significantly less halibut landed in 2011," he stated in an e-mail.

Alaska Glacier Seafoods chief executive officer Mike Erickson said he feels similarly. He expressed concern about a lack of explanation when the quota drop first came out, and said this explanation doesn't offer much in the way of clarification.

He said, for one thing, the formulas used by IPHC change too often. Another concern is the catch limits do not allow for even increases or decreases among all groups, including charter and commercial. He said if one group feels limit reductions in an area, then all groups in that area should feel that reduction evenly, which is not accounted for.

"One of big issues they have is that its not shared equally among all users of this product, and that's got to change," he said, adding that the current methods favor certain fishermen with more income potentials while threatening to bankrupt others.

"I can safely say a lot of the guys out who are commercial fishermen would support my comments, while other groups may not," he said.

United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Executive Director Chris Knight also agrees the assessments for quota recommendations change too rapidly, saying there's a model shift at least every few years.

He said this creates a sense of inconsistency that can give fishermen the impression the IPHC relies on a "theory of the day" mentality that hurts the longevity of the fisheries. He said this makes it hard for fishermen to depend on a simple, sustainable scientific method.

Knight also feels there are political factors weighing in on the quota changes.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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