It was a rare failure of negotiations by the commission that regulates the catch of the prized flatfish pursued by sport, commercial and tribal fishermen in waters off California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.
U.S. and Canadian members of the International Pacific Halibut Commission adjourned their annual meeting in Portland on Friday without reaching agreement on how to make conservation cuts in the annual harvest.
It was a rare failure of negotiations by the six-person commission that regulates the catch of the prized flatfish pursued by sport, commercial and tribal fishermen in waters off California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.
Surveys indicate downturns in the numbers of young halibut that represent the future of the fishery. Both U.S. and Canadian commissioners believe that harvest cuts are required, but sparred over where the catch reductions should be made.
“The Canadians are not in agreement with the U.S. over their share of the responsibility. That is where the rub is,” said Bob Alverson, a Washington fishing-industry official who is one of three U.S. commissioners.
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Halibut dwell in the depths of the North Pacific and Bering Sea and may live to be a quarter century old or older. The annual harvests over the past century have ranged from 34 million to 100 million pounds, with an average harvest of 63 million pounds.
Last year’s U.S. and Canadian harvest was at the low end, only 41.3 million pounds, which includes the accidental take by Alaska trawlnet fleets that are required by regulation to discard halibut. And as harvests decline, it has been harder to reach agreement over where the cut should be made.
Absent an agreement for 2018, the commission’s catch levels set for 2017 will remain in place for this year.
But based on statements made at the meeting by U.S. and Canadian commissioners, each nation still is expected to make some cuts that will reduce the overall harvest to 37.2 million pounds, according to Stephen Keith, the commission’s assistant director.
There are concerns — both in Canada and the U.S. — that further harvest reductions are needed
“We are going to push this (halibut) population right to the edge. This is exactly the opposite of where we want to go,” said Tom Marking, a California recreational halibut fishermen who testified Friday before the commission.
Malcom Milne, a commercial fishermen from south-central Alaska, said that catch rates of halibut have slowed down. “It’s nothing like it was back in the ’90s,” Milne said.
Alverson, said he hopes the commission could take the unusual step of convening another meeting to try to reach agreement on the international harvest level.