Following an increase in catches last year for the first time in several decades, the International Pacific Halibut Commission on Friday set a “suggested” coastwide catch for 2018 at 28.03 million pounds, a 10.7 million pound reduction. Alaska’s share could be 20.52 million pounds, a drop of 2.1 million pounds from 2017.

The numbers could decline further, as for the first time in memory since the IPHC began its oversight of the stocks in 1923, the six commissioners were not able to agree on catch allocations for the eight halibut fishing regions.

Halibut catch limits are determined by summer surveys at more than 1,200 stations from Oregon to the Aleutians.

“There was agreement that the general halibut stock is in decline, but no consensus on what the catches should be. Due to this impasse, the commissioners made suggestions for 2018 for their own countries,” said Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Juneau-based Halibut Coalition.

“The Canadians’ main issue on harvest reduction is that they do not agree with the U.S. on the distribution of the stocks. However, all agreed that stocks are down and that reductions are needed,” Gemmell added in email posts from the Oregon meeting.

“The bottom line is both parties agreed on what we needed to do in terms of reductions, but couldn’t agree on how to get it done,” said IPHC chairman Jim Balsiger. “That’s an awkward place to be, but I don’t believe for a second that any of the commissioners did anything other than what they thought was best and what they were required to do by their own ideals as we try to get to a solution.”

“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.

The impasse means that each country will set its own catch guidelines within recommended limits.

“The need to adopt quotas outside the IPHC process may result in a delay to the March 24 opening date,” cautioned Gemmell. The U.S. halibut fishery will close Nov. 7.

By all accounts, the five-day meeting was “spirited but agreeable.”

“The U.S. and Canada are good friends and neighbors and we do not consider the result a failure,” attendee Bruce Gabrys said in closing remark. “Principled people sometimes disagree. I do not see our relations changing irrespective of what path the IPHC takes as we move forward. We thank the commissioners for their efforts.”

Here are the 2018 suggested catches in millions of pounds compared to last year:

Area, 2017, 2018, percent difference

2A: WA/OR/CA, 1.33 million pounds, 1.19 million pounds, -10.5 percent

2B: Canada, 7.45 million pounds, 6.32 million pounds, -15.2 percent

2C: Southeast AK, 5.25 million pounds, 4.45 million pounds, -15.2 percent

3A: Central Gulf, 10 million pounds, 9.45 million pounds, -5.5 percent

3B: Western Gulf, 3.14 million pounds, 2.62 million pounds, -16.6 percent

4A: Aleutians/Bering Sea, 1.39 million pounds, 1.37 million pounds, -1.4 percent

4B: Aleutians/Bering Sea, 1.14 million pounds, 1.05 million pounds, -7.9 percent

4CDE: Bering Sea, 1.7 million pounds, 1.58 million pounds, -7.1 percent

Total area, 31.4 million pounds, 28.03 million pounds, -10.7 percent

(Source: Alaska Boats and Permits, Homer)

Total halibut removals in 2017 were 42.8 million pounds, up slightly from 2016. Of that, an estimated 26.6 million pounds were landed from commercial fisheries, 7.9 million pounds from recreational fisheries, 6 million pounds from bycatch, and 1.2 million pounds from subsistence.

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