Contrary to all expectations, commercial catches of Pacific halibut were increased for 2019 in all but one Alaska region.
The numbers were revealed Friday at the International Pacific Halibut Commission annual meeting in Victoria, British Columbia.
The reason was due to increased estimates of the overall halibut biomass based on expanded surveys last summer from Northern California to the Bering Sea, said Doug Bowen who operates Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.
“There’s a couple of strong year classes from 2011 and 2012 that are just starting to show up in the commercial catches and I think the scientists are cautiously optimistic that we could see some better harvests as a result of those halibut entering the fishery,” he said in a phone call as he was leaving the meetings.
The coastwide commercial catches were increased to nearly 25 million pounds, almost six percent higher than 2018. Alaska’s share will be just under 20 million pounds, a boost of about three million pounds.
Southeast Alaska’s catch was upped by just over 1 percent to 3.6 million pounds; the Central Gulf gets a nearly 10 percent increase to over 8 million pounds.
The Western Gulf is the only Alaska region to get a halibut reduction – a catch of 2.3 million pounds is a drop of more than 11 percent.
Halibut harvests at the two Aleutian Islands regions were increased to well over one million pounds and the Bering Sea catches went up by nearly 30 percent to top 2 million pounds.
Bowen said the increases came despite concerns by IPHC executive director, Dr. David Wilson.
“He feels that any coastwide catches over 20 million pounds will result in declines in the biomass. So, it is interesting that the catch limits are going up in light of the fact that we do have both declining recruitment and harvest rates coastwide,” Bowen said.
The halibut fishery will open on March 15 and run through November 14, said Martin Milne, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. And in more good news for Alaska, Milne added that next year’s IPHC annual meeting will be held in Anchorage.