The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) will be conducting research operations off Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska during 2012 and will be selling halibut caught during the operations to offset costs associated with conducting the survey. This news release is intended to notify the industry of the IPHC plan to sell fish and seeks offers for fish sales arrangements from interested buyers.

A public workshop to examine several issues related to Pacific halibut bycatch and life history is planned for April 24-25, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. The two-day workshop is jointly sponsored by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC).

The first day will consist of a series of presentations by staffs of IPHC, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and independent scientists and fishing industry representatives on topics related to bycatch estimation, management, and its effects on halibut harvest strategy, as well as halibut growth and migration. The second day will consist of discussions of the previous day's topics by a science panel, including audience participation. A summary report of the workshop presentations and discussions will be prepared by an independent facilitator, and is expected to be available by May 16, 2012.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is seeking a vessel to collect underwater observations of fish hooking behavior on modified hooks using a light-weight drop camera during the late spring or early summer of 2012 in southeastern Alaska (Area 2C). The vessel chartered need not be a longliner, although it will need to have a pot or longline hauler to deploy and retrieve a camera frame. Captain and crew must have some experience fishing for halibut and rockfish in the chartering area. The charter is expected to last for 10-14 days. While the specific charter dates are flexible, we are expecting to conduct this trip during late May or early June.

Charter Announcement:
IPHC Requests Bids for 2012 Stock Assessment Charters

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is seeking commercial longline vessels to conduct survey fishing in 2012.

The purpose of the setline survey is to collect standardized data used for halibut stock assessment. This information is used to study aspects of the halibut resource such as growth, distribution, biomass, age composition, sexual maturity, and relative abundance of other species. The 2012 setline survey will cover 27 regions, from the southern Oregon border to the northern Bering Sea including the Aleutian Islands. All regions are open for single year bids. For the 2012 survey, a bait comparison experiment will be integrated into the usual survey work. Vessels will fish 8 skates of gear (four baited with chum salmon, one baited with pink salmon, one baited with pollock, two blank skates with no hooks separating the baited treatments) at each station following standard survey protocol. A maximum of 3 stations will be permitted per day for the first trip, and a maximum of 4 stations per day will be permitted thereafter, if the survey/experiment design allows. Most regions require 15 - 23 fishing days plus additional days for running, loading and offloading gear and fish, foul weather days, etc. Depending on the region, total charter duration can be expected to be 22 - 34 days. Vessels are encouraged to bid for multiple areas. Survey fishing must be completed between May 27th and August 31st 2012.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission funds several Merit Scholarships to support University, Technical College, and other post-secondary education. The scholarship fund has been established to assist the further education of Canadian and U.S. students connected to the halibut fishery and its industry. Generally, a single scholarship valued at $2,000 (US) per year will be awarded. The scholarships are renewable annually for the normal four-year period of undergraduate education, subject to maintenance of satisfactory academic performance. A committee of industry and Commission representatives will review applications and determine recipients based on academic qualifications, career goals, and relationship to the halibut industry. The scholarships for 2012 will be available for educational entrance or continuation in fall 2012. Additional questions can be directed to either Laura Black (206) 634-1838 (ext. 7661), Tamara Briggie (ext. 7661), or Bruce Leaman (ext. 7672). Applications are available through the Commission offices and must be received by June 29, 2012:

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) completed its Eighty-eighth Annual Meeting in Anchorage, AK, with Dr. James W. Balsiger of Juneau AK presiding as Chair. More than 200 halibut industry stakeholders attended the meeting, with over 50 more participating in web broadcasts of the public sessions.

The Commission is recommending to the governments of Canada and the United States catch limits for 2012 totaling 33,540,000 pounds, an 18.3% decrease from the 2011 catch limit of 41,070,000 pounds.

In addition to setting catch limits for 2012, the Commission dealt with a wide range of catch limit and regulatory issues, and also took important actions regarding bycatch management, scientific assessment review, and the IPHC performance review. Details of the stock assessment, catch limits and seasons, regulatory actions, and other issues are presented in the following sections.

Stock Assessment and Harvest Rates

The Commission staff reported on the 2011 Pacific halibut stock assessment, comprised of a coastwide estimation of biomass from a variant of the assessment model used since 2006, with apportionment to regulatory areas based on the data from the annual Commission standardized stock assessment survey. Coastwide overall commercial fishery weight per unit effort (WPUE) was largely unchanged (+1%) in 2011 from 2010 values, although a significant decline (-18%) continued in Area 3B. Area 2A commercial WPUE also declined significantly, although this area has significantly shorter openings with the tribal fishery and derby-style commercial fishery, leading to a commercial index that is more variable than other areas. In contrast, commercial WPUE increased from 8-15% in Areas 2B, 2C, and 4B. The 2011 IPHC stock assessment survey WPUE values (adjusted for hook competition, survey timing, and averaged as in the apportionment process) increased notably in Area 2C but continued to decrease by about 20% in Areas 3B, 4A, and 4CDE. The coastwide survey WPUE value declined by approximately 5% from 2010 to 2011.

The Commission has expressed concern over continued declining catch rates in several areas and has taken aggressive action to reduce harvests. In addition, the staff has noted a continuing problem of reductions in previous estimates of biomass as additional data are obtained, which has the effect of increasing the realized historical harvest rates on the stock. Commission scientists will be conducting additional research on this matter in 2012. For 2012, the Commission approved a 21.5% harvest rate for use in Areas 2A through 3A and a 16.1% harvest rate for Areas 3B through 4.