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Early closure of 2015 halibut season

Beyond the Breakers by Tom Marking, author badge,

n January of 2015 the, the International Halibut Commission (IHPC) allocated 970,000 lbs. to the 2A zone, 25,220 granted to California (CA receives 4% of the non-tribal portion of this allocation). Due to our success in the past years, the 2015 season was constructed as follows: the first 15 days of May, June, July and August were open; the season was then reopened on September 1 continuously until the allocation was met or until October 31. As you all know CDFW and NMFS made a determination that as of August 13 we would have harvested the allocation, so the season was shut down by in-season action. The early closure caught many by surprise, since May and June were very windy and few fish were harvested. According to CDFW, “partially due to excellent weather during the open days in July, the fishery closed early...” Many anglers happened to be out of the area for that stretch in July, and missed out on the excellent fishing.

Keep in mind, this is the first year CA has had the authority and responsibility to track and stay within an allocated amount. As such, they were probably a bit overly conservative both in sampling effort and in size estimates. That action can be seen in the first two openings where the projected weights were about 12% under the measured and corrected weights based on about 20 fish observed. Therefore, they bumped up the weight estimates by 12%. If this correction is extended over the next two periods where the other 217 fish were observed this would amount to about a 3,000 lb. correction. One might question why after seven years of data to develop the 103.4 lb. multiplier per fish observed, they bumped this amount up by 12% when only 20 fish were seen. In fact, at the PFMC last week this number was increased to 108.4 lbs. as a multiplier). I think the best explanation is they are being over cautious and somewhat defensive due to the Council criticism they have received in the past over our excess harvest in the past years. The CRFS program should smooth out in the future, but we probably got clipped this year on many thousands of pounds. The increase in sampling effort per port may have exacerbated this problem. Hopefully, in the future, the Department will be less reactive and we will get more days on the water as a result.

CDFW gave two staff reports to the PFMC at the September meeting in Sacramento. The first report references the Catch Sharing Plan (CSP), gives a brief description of the 2015 season and refers to the “difficulty in planning due to inflexible nature of the closure periods relative to when good weather and fishing opportunities are available.” The report goes on to state that they are still analyzing the data and will continue to develop its “in-season management expertise”, and as such, do not recommend any changes in the Catch Sharing Plan (CSP) for 2016 (on November 16, a Supplemental Report was presented to the PFMC stating our total was 24,906 net pounds). That statement preempted any further efforts to try to get our allocation increased for 2016. I was disappointed with that Department statement since I had been working with the Groundfish Advisory Committee to push our allocation up another 1%. But, in their defense, they are being cautious on this program since this is the initial year of in-season management control. It is proposed that the CA allocation will remain at 4% (e.g. 25,220 net pounds) for the 2016 season, subject to IPHC action in January of 2016. CDFW indicates that meetings will be held in February at the State-wide level to discuss the season structure for the 2016 year.

The Second CDFW Supplemental Report to the Council gave more detailed information about the 2015 season, the CERFS sampling program, and their explanation and estimation of sampling data per port and angler success. If you are interested in the details, I would recommend you go to the site and look up the Agenda Item 1.a. CDFW Report September 2015. As typical of CDFW reports, the data is generalized, with few exact numbers, making it difficult to extrapolate specific data when you have to use a percent of aggregated totals. But there are some interesting graphs and a lot of information. Here is some of the data as presented.

The season lasted 57 days and the catch projected was 22,740 lbs. at the time of the in-season action. Their estimation was that after final analysis we would achieve the 25,220 lbs. with the corrected weights. During the 57 days, there were 196 sample assignments for all the ports. Therefore, there were three sample assignments for each open day, scattered among the six ports, a few ports with multiple sites at each port. A bar graph illustrates the observed samples at each port with a table detailing how many sample days they were at each port. It is not specified where the sampler was at each port, or how many fish were observed at a particular location. The problem arises in that Eureka has the several sample areas, one being the Charter fleet. Those data are not provided and here is why that is important. The CERFS sample data works as follows: for each fish that is observed there is a multiplier of 103.4 lbs. to estimate total catch. That weight was developed using a 20% sample data scenario. If the CERF samplers were at the various sited in excess of 20%, they may have overestimated the amount of landed halibut. This gets a bit complicated, but doesn’t all sampling data. Overall the report states that 54% of sampling effort was for PR1 modes (private boaters), 36% for PC (Charters) and 11% for PR2 (private boats in areas like King Salmon where access is limited to samplers). Like much of their data, you have to accept it as presented, but it does leave you wondering?

Trinidad landed 99 of the 217 fish observed (46%), 91% were caught by private boats with 9% caught by the Charter fleet.

May 379 lbs.

June 1,784

July 11,684

August 8,892

Total 22,740 lbs. (with weight correction and projections this will be 25,220 lbs.?)

Of the 57 days, only 16 days had good weather conditions, 11 days had mixed weather conditions and the remaining days were poor. While fish were caught on 30 days, the bulk of the fish were caught on 15 out of the 57 days. Clearly, the data suggests that we can harvest our allocation very quickly when good weather conditions exist. If you are interested in the particulars, take the effort to go and read these two reports. There is a lot of information and the graphs and charts are very revealing. They are in a PDF format, so I was not able to cut and paste them into this article.

In summary, I doubt we’ll get any further defining data than what was published in those two reports. CDFW has stated they will hold meetings in February to discuss the season structure for 2016, although I don’t expect it to be much different from what we had this year. Very few fish were caught in May and June with the bulk of the fish being caught from July 6 to July 12, and in the three days in August during periods of calm weather. CDFW was probably overly conservative this year in management reactions, but that was to be expected since this was the first year of in-season management between CDFW and NMFS. Hopefully, in 2016 we will get more time on the water, and we will continue efforts in 2017 to increase the allocation greater than the 4% we currently receive.

Season Structure
Many anglers are grumbling about the new season structure where the first 15 days of the month is open and closed for the next two weeks. HASA has proposed a modified season structure that suggests when 80% of the halibut are caught in the spring or summer, the remaining 20% is reserved for the fall. Whether this will be considered by CDFW at this point is doubtful for the following reasons: one, they want things to settle down and watch what changes occur in angler behavior with this new in-season authority and structure, and two, if the 80/20 split were instituted, the early season would probably shut off in June, to the disadvantage of Trinidad and Shelter Cove harbors, that rely heavily on tourists. And, 20% only amount to about 5,000 lbs. of fish that would probably be caught in the three days over the Labor Day weekend. But, this will all be discussed in the February CDFW meeting, the date of which is uncertain at this point. To close, our seasons will continue to shrink, as more effort shifts to the spring, and our fishery becomes a derby. Oregon and Washington States, went through these same struggles, and continue to do so.

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.

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