Halibut on the brink?

Ultimately, this slashing is a recommendation based on stock surveys. The International Pacific Halibut Commission may not enforce the full 47 percent cut. But that doesn’t eliminate some of the questions that arise when the commission staff goes from trimming back quotas to slamming on the brakes.

Quotas should be based on data, but that should not be the only determination. These cuts absolutely will put people out of business. So the question is, is it worth it? How do you weigh the risk of fishing a declining stock against the risk of putting people out of work? How likely is the stock to stay down? Do we know what’s keeping it down? Are we cutting back on fishing because it’s the easy target? Is that the right approach?

Some would say yes, unequivocally, because it’s the easy thing to control. And while I believe meeting in the middle is the only fair way to get things done in an inherently unfair world, I also believe you shimmy your way to the brink if the line toward the middle is redrawn year after year.

If a strictly managed fishery with an annual stock survey requires a nearly 50 percent reduction in quota, then something besides fishing is causing a shift in the ecosystem.

It remains to be seen what the IPHC will decide in the coming weeks and how it will address the inconsistency of American and Canadian quota recommendations. At very least I hope the guidelines the commission uses to determine the quotas will be more transparent.

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