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Crunch time for halibut

ottom line, California is about to be taken to the woodshed by the PFMC for eating too many halibut cookies, again! From their perspective we have been errant children who need to be disciplined. We have been given a 6,240 lb annual allocation and we have continued to exceed that amount, and this year is no different. CDFW personnel reported to the PFMC at the September meeting we harvested 4800 lbs in May, 2700 lbs in June and 20,000+ lbs in July. August was closed, the weather in September has been rough and windy, so we have until October 31 for the remainder of this season. The PFMC is not happy about our success. They believe we are unmanaged and unregulated. That set the backdrop for the Council to take two actions. The first is to provide a bit more allocation to CA and the second was to take steps to hold us to that allocation, once adopted. So, the stage is set for the November meeting in Costa Mesa to adopt an option for these two motions.

If you’ve read any of my previous articles you have some understanding how all this came about. We in Northern California believe we have a very minimal and unacceptable allocation and OR and WA have grown accustomed to catching fish that we believe should be part of the CA allocation. There are fair and honest points on both sides, but the survey numbers are starting to change attitudes that we are getting short sheeted on this one. With 100,000 lbs of biomass in the 2013 survey and more expected in the 2014 survey, even the Council agrees we don’t have enough of the pie. They have agreed to share a bit more…but therein lies the rub. That was the focus of the September meeting…how much is enough. We want 50,000 lbs, they are thinking more in the range of 18,000 lbs; a substantial difference with a lot riding on the outcome.

I work with the industry (Groundfish Advisory Subpanel) and we negotiated ranges of 3, 4 and 5% for CA, as our preliminary alternatives, and presented those options to the Council. (We currently get 1% of the non-tribal amount.) The Council already had a report from the Tri-State group recommending 3% of the non-tribal allocation. All these percentages are when the IPHC gives us 1 million lbs or less. Should it be more (which isn’t likely) there are some additional amounts in the mix, but they just confuse the issue at the moment, so I won’t address them. The Council options include whether the increased allocation to CA would come out of the Commercial, the Recreation amounts from WA and Or, or equal shares from all. The GAP options are that it is shared equally from all three. So, that gives six options (or preferred alternatives) that were put out for public comment. At the November meeting, a final decision is to be adopted. CA would prefer the 5% option (about 30,000 lbs), but the Council seems more inclined to the 3% (18,000 lbs). Hopefully, we can keep it about 25,000 lbs at a minimum.

There is a lot of hand wringing about our lack of management control and how we have an unregulated fishery. From their perspective, that’s how it appears. However, from a CA perspective, if the allocation were reasonable, then our management scheme is just right, that’s what we are catching, 30,000 to 40,000 lbs each year. But this is why all allocations are negotiations, we will probably end up with something in between. To address the Management Control issue, WDFW (WA State) made a motion that whatever the allocation ends up to be, CA be required to stay within that allocation. Depending upon the allocation amount, we could have a season anywhere from 15 days to two months if 18,000 to 24,000 lbs is adopted. That is a dramatic loss in time and will cause severe economic loss to our area ports and charter boats.

Science has been sidelined in this discussion since according to the IPHC, one year sample data is not sufficient to make sub-area allocations (too much sample variability), so this throws it back into the political arena. And since we are outvoted, two to one, we are at a distinct disadvantage. Our strategy needs to be to get the best outcome possible, at the least economic damage and loss of time on the water. And, hopefully, as further data is generated on surveys, we can rely more on science and less on politics (which will always play a role in this decision). This is a complex topic and our two sister states have a 25 year history of getting all but 1% of the allocation, and they want to keep it that way. The halibut population is definitely recovering in Northern CA and we think we should have our fair share returned to us. That may happen over time, but this will be a step-wise process. If you want to look at all the options in detail, go to the website and click on Halibut Actions and all the Preferred Alternatives are presented. Bear in mind that there is little likelihood of our getting over 1 M lbs of allocation any time soon, although all the options have that possibility included.

If you are involved in this fishery, I would encourage you to send in a letter to the PFMC prior to the last week in October on what option you prefer and get on the record. This will be your last opportunity to voice your opinion, prior to a final decision being made in November.

Tom Marking is a past Board Member of the Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers with a membership of about 500 local anglers. In addition, he is also a member of GAP the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel, serving as the CA Sportfishing Representative. He attended the meeting noted above and agreed to share his view of what happened with MyOutdoorBuddy readers


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