Managing the Resource: How
Several measures are in place to manage the Canadian wild Pacific halibut fishery and they continue to evolve to ensure sustainability.
Prior to 1979, fewer than 100 vessels operated in the commercial fishery for wild Pacific halibut on Canada’s Pacific coast. In 1979, the federal government limited entry into the fishery and issued 435 commercial halibut licences. While this capped the number of vessels that could commercially-harvest wild Pacific halibut in Canada, it greatly increased the number of participants in the directed halibut fishery. This resulted in excessive fishing pressure and consistent overharvesting, leading to shorter and shorter fishing seasons to try to control the harvest. The shorter seasons failed to keep harvests within total allowable catch limits and jeopardized product quality; made it difficult to generate consistent positive financial returns; and, often forced fishermen to fish in inclement weather leading to vessel safety concerns.
In 1989, a small group of Canadian commercial halibut harvesters approached DFO to develop a better way to manage the wild Pacific halibut fishery. The fishery has been continually evolving since then and today operates under a leading edge fisheries management regime that includes individual transferable quota (ITQ) or “catch share” management; trip limits; 100% at-sea and dockside monitoring; and, full accountability for all catch, both halibut and non-halibut species regardless of whether the fish is retained or released at sea. The management regime is called the Commercial Groundfish Integration Program and it was developed through a three-year collaborative process that included representatives from the seven commercial groundfish fisheries (including wild Pacific halibut), seafood processors, DFO fisheries managers and scientists and provincial government representatives.
Currently, about 160 to 170 vessels participate in Canada’s commercial fishery for wild Pacific halibut. Although there are 435 limited entry commercial licences for wild Pacific halibut, matching fleet size and fishing effort to the available harvest reduces pressure on marine resources and minimizes environmental impacts.
There are also several other ways in which sustainability is ensured. Specifically, wild seafood production produces less carbon dioxide emissions than other sources of protein and optimizing the number of vessels operating in a fishery further reduces its carbon footprint. Fewer vessels deploying less fishing gear decreases the potential for incidental catches, or bycatch of other fish species as well as encounters with seabirds or marine mammals. As a condition of licence, all wild Pacific halibut vessels deploying longline gear are required to use seabird avoidance devices, and these devices have been demonstrated to markedly reduce seabird mortality. Less gear also means a reduced amount of contact with the ocean floor and therefore less benthic impact.
The management of Canada’s wild Pacific halibut fishery requires full accountability of all fish caught and features a world class catch accounting system outlined below. Wild Pacific halibut harvesters fully fund the monitoring components of their fishery. They incur significant expenses but they support the measures as they are necessary to ensure conservation and sustainable resource management.
For each fishing trip, vessels must “hail out” before heading out to sea and “hail in” before coming into port. Hails are made to a government-approved monitoring company and alert the DFO of a vessel’s intention to fish, and open and close fishing trip records with service providers to ensure that the required at-sea and dockside monitoring requirements are met.
Vessel masters in Canada’s wild Pacific halibut fishery (and all other commercial groundfish fisheries) must complete logbooks that document fishing location, date, time, gear, bait, catch species and quantity. The fishermen must document all of their catch - not only halibut but all other fish species - regardless of whether the fish has been retained or released at sea. Although rare, vessels must also document any interactions with seabirds or marine mammals.
There is 100% at-sea monitoring of all fishing trips. All vessels are required to carry a government-designated observer or a video-based, GPS equipped electronic monitoring (EM) system from a government approved service provider. During the fishing trip, the observer or EM system records all fishing locations and catches - both retained and released.
The EM systems include gear activity sensors, a GPS and at least two video cameras to record all fishing activity on deck including the species coming in over the rail and the species being released before the rail. The data collected by the EM system is used to randomly audit 10% of the fishing logbook. If the EM and logbook fall outside of the government-determined acceptable range of accuracy, the trip is subject to a 100% video review and this is used as the official catch record for the trip.
Commercial harvesters must pay the cost of any additional video review. If the vessel fails the audit process for multiple trips, it is required to take an on-board observer. The risk of increased monitoring costs due to additional video viewing or the requirement to take an on-board observer creates a powerful incentive for commercial harvesters to produce an accurate logbook.
There is 100% dockside monitoring of all vessel landings. The management regime requires that wild Pacific halibut landings only take place at approved landing ports and all landings are monitored by a government–designated dockside validator. Here all fish landed – halibut and non-halibut species - are counted and weighed by the validator who also tags every single halibut in the tail with a unique serial number.
Carryover of Quota Overage and Underage
To create incentives to encourage vessels to fish under their allocations, limited quota carryover provisions are in place in the wild Pacific halibut fishery. Vessels with catch in excess of their ITQ have the overage deducted from their ITQ in the following year. Vessels with catch less than their ITQ are permitted to carryover a limited amount of the uncaught ITQ; however, any amount above the carryover limit is forgone. These measures have proven effective at helping to keep harvests under allowable limits.
Winter Spawning Closure
In both Canada and the United States the commercial wild Pacific halibut fishery is closed during the winter months, as this is when mature halibut spawn on grounds along the edge of the continental shelf.