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Subsistence Fisheries

Pacific halibut were fished historically by the indigenous peoples inhabiting the lands bordering the eastern north Pacific Ocean and was included in the diet of many groups who conducted their fishery by hook and line from large canoes, which could venture as far as 20 miles (32 km) from shore. The hooks were elaborately carved and were selective for large fish suitable for drying and smoking. The technique of these fishers was well developed and very efficient as the following excerpt by F. Boas1 explains:

“Halibut are caught with hooks made of crooked branches of red or yellow cedar, attached to fishing-lines made of red cedar bark sixty fathoms long. The halibut hook is tied to the fishing line with split spruceroots. Devilfish (octopus) is used as bait. The fishing lines are taken out by the fishermen in their canoes and thrown overboard. After a while they are pulled up again. After the halibut hooks have been taken up, the fish are killed by clubbing. Then hooks are thrown back into the water. At this place it is said that there were two fishermen in the canoe, who distinguished the halibut they had caught by placing them with the head toward the owner. The fishermen had his knees covered with a mat.”

Today, in addition to providing active commercial and recreational fisheries opportunities to indigenous groups, Pacific halibut continues to be an important subsistence and ceremonial fish. Subsistence Pacific halibut is a traditional food that has always been relied on to feed the communities. Ceremonially, Pacific halibut is used to feed people at culturally important events like weddings, funerals, and naming ceremonies.

In Washington State, thirteen tribes exercise treaty rights to obtain an allocation of the total Pacific halibut catch limit in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A. In 1995, the U.S.A. government prohibited non-treaty commercial Pacific halibut fishing north of Pt. Chehalis off the coast of Washington to achieve court-ordered allocation to the tribes. Tribal groups and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission oversee local management of the fisheries. Native groups in Washington also have subsistence fisheries. The IPHC Regulatory Area 2A tribal ceremonial and subsistence fishery is part of the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Catch Sharing Plan.

First Nations members in British Columbia have access to the commercial fishery and a separate Pacific halibut fishery for food, social, and ceremonial purposes. The First Nations food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fishery allows subsistence use. Commercial fishing is conducted under ‘FL’ licenses that are issued as a part of a First Nations communal commercial fishing program.

Around Annette Island in southeast Alaska, an exclusive fishing reserve extending 3,000 feet (914 m) out from the shoreline was created for the Metlakatla tribal fishery. The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the fishery in 1990, initially on a test basis. Each season length is restricted to 48 hours. No total catch limit exists, but catch totals are included in the IPHC Regulatory Area 2C total. Only tribal fishers may commercially fish within the boundary, and specific regulations beyond those established by the IPHC, have been enacted by the tribal council. The IPHC does not exercise jurisdiction over the seasons and total catch because the fishery is executed internally, but the vessels do submit catch and log information to the IPHC for stock assessment purposes.

Native groups in Alaska also have subsistence fisheries. The Alaskan fishery falls under the general subsistence framework managed by NOAA Fisheries.  Fishers must obtain a Subsistence Halibut Registration Certificate (SHARC) from NOAA Fisheries before fishing under the subsistence Pacific halibut regulations.

1Boas, F. 1910. Tsimshian Mythology. Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report 1909-1910, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., pp. 27-1037.

Recreational Fisheries

The recreational fishery for Pacific halibut had a slow beginning. Prior to 1973, all fishing for Pacific halibut was governed by the commercial fishing regulations and it was illegal for anyone to catch Pacific halibut when the commercial season was closed. Recreationally-caught Pacific halibut, though, were frequently taken during these closed periods. Because the recreational catch, including recreationally-caught fish taken out of season, was relatively small compared with the commercial catch, IPHC concluded that the problem was not a serious concern for the management of the fishery.

As the recreational catch increased, federal and state agencies urged the IPHC to officially recognize the recreational fishery. Legal interpretations by the two federal governments indicated that the Convention for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the Northern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea provided the authority to regulate the recreational fishery. After consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the NOAA in the USA, and the appropriate state agencies in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington, the IPHC adopted recreational regulations in 1973. Since 1970s, the popularity of bottomfish with recreational fishers has surged.

Pacific halibut continues to be one of the most popular recreational fish targets, which has fueled growth in recreational harvests, the charter industry, and remote fishing lodges.

Recreational fisheries are managed jointly by the IPHC, the USA fishery management councils, and the individual states in the USA, and cooperatively by the IPHC and DFO in Canada. Methods for managing and limiting the recreational harvest vary by jurisdiction.

Recreational fisheries data can be found on the IPHC data library.

Recreational fishing in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A

IPHC Regulatory Area 2A is located off the USA West Coast in waters off Washington (WA), Oregon (OR), and California (CA). The IPHC sets the overall total allowable catch for the area. The IPHC Regulatory Area 2A Catch Sharing Plan as put forth by the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries provides the formulas to then allocate Pacific halibut among user groups in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A.

Permits

The NOAA Fisheries final rule (87 FR 74322) implementing the management transition in the IPHC Regulatory Area 2A to the NOAA Fisheries was published on 5 December 2022 and became effective on 4 January 2023.

As of 2023, charter vessels retaining Pacific halibut in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A must obtain a permit from NOAA Fisheries.

Online permit application forms are available through the NOAA Fisheries West Coast region webpage.

Individual anglers should check with their state for licensing requirements.

Management

Recreational fishing is very popular off the USA West Coast, in part due to the proximity to major population centers. Anglers view Pacific halibut as an alternative to salmon, other bottomfish, and albacore. Because of this popularity, the area is divided into subareas, each with its own allocation and season structure. Bag and possession limits also apply.

Please contact the National Marine Fisheries Service or State Fisheries Department representatives for current information on opening dates, local area closures, and bag limits.

Resources

Recreational fishing in IPHC Regulatory Area 2B

Open: 1 February

Close: the recreational fishery limit allocated by DFO is taken, or 31 December, whichever is earlier

IPHC Regulatory Area 2B is located off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. The IPHC sets the overall total allowable catch. The Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) then allocates Pacific halibut among user groups in IPHC Regulatory Area 2B.

Through 2003, the Canadian recreational fishery was managed without any fishery limits, but anglers were restricted by bag and possession limits. In 2004, DFO enacted a catch sharing plan that worked from a combined commercial-recreational fishery catch limit set by the IPHC. Under the plan, DFO allocated 12% of the combined limit to the recreational fishery and 88% to the commercial fishery. Beginning with the 2013 fishing season, DFO changed the allocation between sectors to 85% for the commercial fishery and 15% for the recreational fishery.

DFO uses management tools such as adjusting season lengths, reduced bag and possession limits, and area closures to maintain the recreational catch within its allocation. Catch statistics are compiled by DFO and provided annually to the IPHC.

RESOURCES

DFO recreational fishing webpage – recreational fishing licensing requirements and in-season fishery notices on changes to restrictions

Recreational fishing in IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C, 3, 4

Open: 1 February

Close: 31 December

IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C, 3, and 4 are located in Alaskan waters. The IPHC sets the overall total allowable catch and season (called the “fishing period” in IPHC regulations). The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service then allocate Pacific halibut among user groups, some through Catch Sharing Plan.

Prior to 2014, there was no overall sport Pacific halibut catch limit in Alaska, just daily bag and possession limits for the individual angler. In 2003, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council implemented a Guideline Harvest Level (GHL) program for the guided sport charter fishery in IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C and 3A. The GHL program specified predetermined harvest targets that changed in relation to changes in Pacific halibut abundance. Management restrictions were to be imposed by the NOAA when the harvest exceeded the GHL in order to reduce the harvest in the subsequent year. However, the GHL for  Area 2C sport charter fishery was exceeded every year until 2011, when fishery restrictions were finally imposed, and the harvest was reduced below the GHL. The GHL in Area 3A was exceeded only once, in 2007. In general, the program had limited success in Area 2C in achieving the goals of effectively managing the charter fishery to the specific GHLs.

In 2011, NOAA implemented a limited entry program for the sport charter fishery, which required that the vessel operator possess a special permit to participate in the fishery. Beginning in 2014, a catch sharing plan governs harvest allocations to Regulatory Areas 2C and 3A commercial and sport charter fisheries. Charter management measures intended to keep the sector within its allocation are specified in .

Resources

Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS)

Article II of the IPHC Convention states that each Contracting Party shall have the right to enforce the Convention and any regulations adopted thereto in all Convention waters against its own nationals and fishing vessels, and in the portion of the Convention waters in which it exercises exclusive fisheries jurisdiction against nationals or fishing vessels of either Contracting Party or third parties.

This approach reflects the sovereign rights of the coastal state within its Exclusive Economic Zone as set out in Part V of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), in particular Article 73 (Enforcement of laws and regulations of the coastal State).

The United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) places a series of obligations on flag States concerning compliance and enforcement, including immediate and full investigation of alleged violations, prompt reporting on the progress and outcome of the investigation to the relevant RFMO, and if a serious violation has been proven, the requirement not to allow the vessel to fish until such time as imposed sanctions have been complied with. Furthermore, the flag state must ensure that applicable sanctions are adequate in severity to secure compliance and to discourage violations and deprive offenders of the benefits accruing from non-compliance.

MCS in the IPHC context is implemented by Contracting Party national agencies as follows:

Canada: Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has the lead federal role in managing Canada’s fisheries and safeguarding its waters. The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), a special operating agency within DFO, is responsible for services and programs that contribute to the safety, security, and accessibility of Canada’s waterways.

United States of America: NOAA Fisheries is an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) enforces international treaty requirements. OLE ensures compliance with fishery regulations. The U.S. Coast Guard is a federal agency enforcing domestic and international fisheries laws, as well as protects the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

 

Fishery Regulations

International Pacific Halibut Commission Fishery Regulations (2024) (05 February 2024)

The IPHC Fishery Regulations published here are for information purposes only. Official regulations adopted by the Contracting Parties are available:

The following describes the process of submitting a regulatory proposal or a comment on an existing or proposed fishery regulation.

IPHC Annual Regulatory Process

Regulatory proposal deadline is 30 days before the date fixed for the opening of the Session at which the proposal is to be considered (Interim Meeting and/or Annual Meeting).

Step 1: Submit your regulatory proposal using the form below no later than 30 days before the date fixed for the opening of the IPHC Session. Regulatory proposals received after this deadline will be presented for information only.

IPHC Regulatory Proposal Form

Step 2: The regulatory proposal will be numbered and published to the website of the next IPHC Session (Interim Meeting and/or Annual Meeting) no later than one (1) business day after receipt, by the IPHC Secretariat.

Step 3: The IPHC Secretariat will review the regulatory proposal and develop an implementation discussion, as needed. This could detail how the regulatory proposal could be implemented, as well as any foreseen complications. This may or may not include specific regulatory text additions or amendments.

Step 4: The Commission will review the regulatory proposal at the next IPHC Session. The Commission may request additional information from the regulatory proposal author and/or the IPHC Secretariat for further consideration. Decision on a regulatory proposal submitted to the IPHC Interim Meeting will be typically postponed to the upcoming Annual Meeting, but early submission is highly encouraged as it will provide the Commissioners and IPHC Secretariat staff additional time to seek clarification if necessary.

Step 5: The IPHC Secretariat will contact the regulatory proposal author if the Commission has requested additional information.

Step 6: Regulations adopted annually by the Commission are then submitted to the two Contracting Parties for internal approval and implementation.

Fishery Regulation Comment

Informal statements or comments on IPHC Fishery Regulations or published regulatory proposals can be submitted using the form below up until the day before the IPHC Session. Submitted comments will be collated into a single document and provided to the Commissioners at the IPHC Session.

IPHC Stakeholder Comment Form

Request an IPHC Permit

An IPHC Permit is required to capture or use Pacific halibut for any purpose not included in the International Pacific Halibut Commission Fishery Regulations (2023) (02 February 2023). This includes research or tagging activities by entities other than the IPHC. For a list of current and expired IPHC Permits visit our Permitting page. 

IPHC Research/Tagging Permit Request Form

Non-Directed Commercial Discard Mortality

Pacific halibut are captured in large numbers by vessels fishing for other species, primarily using trawl, pot, and longline gear that are targeting groundfish. Not all Pacific halibut caught will die from the injuries if the fish are returned to the sea (discarded) in a careful and timely manner. In many areas, observers work onboard groundfish vessels and gather information regarding the amount of Pacific halibut incidentally caught and the condition of those Pacific halibut at release. From these data, the IPHC is able to estimate both the total amount of Pacific halibut caught and discarded in each fishery, and the discard mortality rate, or percentage that subsequently die. Many Pacific halibut captured as bycatch are below the commercial minimum size limit of 32 inches (81.3 cm) fork length, especially in the Bering Sea. Because Pacific halibut are migratory, incidental catches of juveniles in one area will have a potential effect on the future abundance in other areas.

The IPHC regulates which gear types can legally retain Pacific halibut. The IPHC regularly makes policy recommendations to its member governments and assists in designing and analyzing bycatch reduction measures.

Time-series of non-directed commercial discard mortality estimates can be found in the IPHC data library.

Pending Alaskan Landings

Pending Alaskan Landings

This is a summary of Alaskan Pacific halibut IFQ landings expected to occur within the next ~12 hours. Under current regulations, vessel operators who are required to submit Prior Notice of Landing (PNOL) Reports must do so at least 3 hours ahead of the start of an IFQ offload.

This information was compiled at the IPHC using the NOAA Fisheries PNOL report. Data do not include information for vessels that were given waivers to unload without submitting a PNOL, or for landings that are otherwise exempt from the PNOL requirement. This list includes all vessels that have hailed in but have not unloaded their Pacific halibut catch.

“Minimal Activity” indicates 2 or less vessels are landing. Poundage cannot be disclosed for reasons of confidentiality.

“Pacific Halibut Poundage” is the total estimated weight of Pacific halibut to be offloaded for each harvest area as reported by vessel operators.

Southeast Alaska includes Sitka, Ketchikan, Metlakatla, Petersburg, Hoonah, Juneau, Auke Bay
Central Gulf includes Homer, Seward, Kodiak, Whittier, Cordova, Yakutat
Western Alaska includes Dutch Harbor, Pribilof Islands, Sand Point, King Cove, Chignik, Adak, Akutan

If the table does not appear current, please “reload” this page, which is updated every morning.

Question or comments regarding this page should be directed to the IPHC:  
(206) 634-1838

Commercial Fisheries

Pacific halibut commercial fishing fleet is diverse and uses various strategies to harvest the resource. In British Columbia and Alaska, the industry is managed with individual quota (IQ) systems ensuring catch within annual limit. Commercial fisheries in Washington, Oregon, and California range from a directed commercial derby fishing to Pacific halibut caught incidental to sablefish and salmon fisheries.

A typical Pacific halibut fishing trip in today’s fishery begins with the vessel taking on several tons of crushed ice so that the catch can be chilled near, but usually not below, the freezing point. Once the vessel reaches the fishing grounds, the gear is set, left to soak for several hours, and then hauled back aboard. As the Pacific halibut are brought aboard, they are often stunned and then cut in the gill area to induce bleeding and create a better product. Pacific halibut are dressed soon after capture by removing the viscera and gills. The body cavity, or “poke”, is scraped, washed, and sometimes filled with ice. The head is not removed until the catch is delivered dockside. The fish are stored in the hold in layers separated with crushed ice. Many vessels now have refrigeration that reduces the amount of ice needed and maintains a lower and more uniform temperature in the hold. Some vessels have refrigerated sea water or an ice/seawater mixture in which they store the fish. The fish are then delivered to a dockside plant where they are cleaned, possibly headed and either frozen or shipped fresh to buyers. The mechanics of capturing, cleaning, and storing Pacific halibut at sea in the commercial fishery have changed little over time. However, technological advances, steel-hulled vessels, modern electronics, and improved gear (particularly circle hooks and stronger fishing lines), have made fishing efforts more efficient and has allowed the fishing fleet to capture Pacific halibut throughout the entire extent of their geographic and depth distribution.

For details on how the Secretariat samples landings from these fisheries, please refer to the following manual:

Document
Title
PDF
Availability
IPHC-2024-PSM01
International Pacific Halibut Commission Manual for Sampling Directed Commercial Landings (2024)
26 Feb 2024

Commercial fisheries data can be found in the IPHC data library.

Directed commercial fishery in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A

IPHC Regulatory Area 2A is located off the USA West Coast in waters off Washington (WA), Oregon (OR), and California (CA). IPHC sets the overall mortality limit for the area. The IPHC Regulatory Area 2A Catch Sharing Plan as put forth by the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries provides the formulas to then allocate Pacific halibut among user groups in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A.

The directed commercial fishery in this IPHC Regulatory Area consists of:

  • Directed commercial fishery
  • Incidental commercial Pacific halibut fishery during the sablefish fishery
  • Incidental commercial Pacific halibut fishery during the salmon troll fishery

Permits

The NOAA Fisheries final rule (87 FR 74322) implementing the management transition in the IPHC Regulatory Area 2A to the NOAA Fisheries was published on 5 December 2022 and became effective on 4 January 2023.

As of 2023, commercial vessels retaining Pacific halibut in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A must obtain a permit from NOAA Fisheries.

Online permit application forms are available through the NOAA Fisheries West Coast region web page.

Directed commercial fishery in IPHC Regulatory Area 2B

Open: 15 March 2024 at 06:00h local time

Closed:
 7 December 2024 at 23:59h local time

IPHC Regulatory Area 2B is located off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. The IPHC sets the overall total allowable catch and season (called the “fishing period” in IPHC regulations) for the area. The 
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) then allocates Pacific halibut among user groups in IPHC Regulatory Area 2B.

Canada’s directed Pacific halibut fishery operates under an individual vessel quota (IVQ) system, where each licensed vessel is allocated a percentage of the IPHC Regulatory Area 2B fishery limit to harvest at any time over the commercial fishing period. In 2006, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) implemented a Groundfish Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP), where all vessels are accountable for all of their catch, both retained and discarded. All hook-and-line vessels, even those not officially licensed as Pacific halibut vessels, can retain and sell Pacific halibut as long as they have Pacific halibut quota shares to cover their catch.

Directed commercial fishery in IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C, 3 and 4

Open: 15 March 2024 at 06:00h local time

Closed:
7 December 2024 at 23:59h local time

IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C, 3 and 4 are located in Alaskan waters. The IPHC sets the overall total allowable catch and season (called the “fishing period” in IPHC regulations). The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the NOAA Fisheries then allocate Pacific halibut among user groups, some through Catch Sharing Plan.

Alaska’s directed Pacific halibut fishery operates under an individual fishing quota (IFQ) system, where each permit holder is allocated a percentage of the specific regulatory area’s catch limit to harvest at any time over the commercial fishing period.

Pending Alaska Landing Information

Resources

Pacific Fishery Management Council

NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region

NOAA Fisheries