The 2017 Annual International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) conference board was the classic epic contest between the various interests of 8 regulatory areas. Of course, Canada led the way sighting a huge discrepancy between IPHC survey results and the commercial Weight Per Unit of Effort (WPUE). Our Alaskan friends followed up with their own claim that for 2C, that the fish in area 2 swam back and forth between 2B and 2C and therefore 2C should get more than the existing sustainability benchmark (the “blue line”) as well.
The IPHC introduced a new metric called the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR). It is a concept used in many other fisheries and not fully understood by many of us present at the conference board. As a result the "blue line" will be phased out and replaced by the SPR line.
In this year’s decision table, the SPR lies below the "line formerly known as blue", which means greater catch recommendations by a couple million pounds. The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union held firm to its resolution to support “the Blue Line” across the board (total removals of 37.91 million lbs), causing some to label us "Debbie Downer.”
The conference board, as well as the processors board, settled at over 44 million pounds, far above the IPHC tipping point of 40 million pounds. Beyond 40 million pounds the risks of rapid decline in the halibut stocks increase significantly. North Pacific Fishermen's Association (Homer) joined us in our support of “the Blue Line” and though we were significantly outvoted, we were able to get a minority report included in the conference board’s final draft report, as well as a verbal statement to the commissioners themselves.
There was a "mandated agreement" that catch amount motions made should not be put forth by anyone that does not fish in a particular area. The Fishing Vessel Owners Association (FVOA) did not involve themselves in the Area 2 fight and went with slightly higher numbers than “the blue line” from 3A west (an average between the blue line and the SPR line) which came fairly close to the 40 million pound tipping point.
The evening festivities included receptions put on by IPHC and the Halibut Association of North America, a good place to meet and greet the commissioners, scientists, processors, fellow Canadian fishermen and IPHC's new executive director Dr. David Wilson, former director of the tuna fleet. We were able to get our book in his hands and hopefully he reads it.
Our new Executive Director, Jim Johnson, experienced his first week on the job while attending the IPHC Conference. He came away impressed with the open, democratic and collaborative nature of the proceedings. While he was dismayed by the trawler bycatch figures and somewhat disappointed with any deviations from “the Blue Line” measure of sustainability, he was impressed with the leadership demonstrated by members of the DSFU and the FVOA in helping reach the decision of the Commission’s recommendation to the governments of Canada and the United States catch limits for 2017 totaling 31.40 million pounds.
- Jan Standaert | Vice-President | DSFU