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Should Alaska have protected halibut nursery waters? #IPHC

Image by marymactavish via Flickr

Craig Medred | Jan 27, 2012

Canada has protested that something needs to be done about the trawl industry killing and dumping 10 million pounds of halibut off Alaska's coast, but the International Pacific Halibut Commission proved powerless to do anything about it.

Meeting this week in Anchorage, the commission recognized the trawl catch as a potential problem, but then placed the burden of conservation squarely on the shoulders of commercial longliners along the Pacific Coast from Alaska south to California. The Commission again endorsed staff recommendations to shrink the catches of those fishermen in an effort to avoid an ever-shrinking population of adult halibut.

The action came after a week of meetings at which considerable time was spent discussing why huge numbers of North Pacific halibut don't translate into huge numbers of halibut for the commercial and sport fisheries.

Scientists painted a portrait of a sea full of juvenile halibut. The problem, however, is that those juveniles seem to be disappearing before they reach spawning age. Spawning age is about the time when halibut meet the 32-inch minimum-size limit for the commercial fishery and the weight at which anglers start to think about keeping the fish. A 32-inch fish generally weighs just under 15 pounds.

The numbers of these adult fish available for harvest, what the commission calls "biomass,'' has been creeping downward for a decade. How much of this is due to immature fish being caught, killed and wasted by..