Commercial Halibut Fishermen Collect Critical Scientific Data for Rockfish and Groundfish Species

Every year, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), commercial halibut fishermen, through the Pacific Halibut Management Association (PHMA), fund a research program that provides catch rates and biological samples of various rockfish and groundfish species. The biological data collected includes length, weight, sex, gonad maturity, otoliths (i.e., “ear bones”) for age determination and genetic material for some species. The information collected is needed so Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) scientists can undertake stock assessments to monitor the health of the resource and determine allowable harvest levels.

In 2003, due to growing concern over the health of some inshore rockfish species and the lack of scientific data available to assess the status of the stocks, PHMA began funding an extra technician on the annual International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) Fishery Independent Setline Survey (FISS) in Canadian waters. The IPHC FISS represents one of the most extensive research programs in the Northeast Pacific Ocean and provides catch information and biological data on Pacific halibut that are collected independently of the commercial fishery.

The survey design encompasses nearshore and offshore waters of southern Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, southeast Alaska, the central and western Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and northern Bering Sea. These areas are divided into regions with survey stations located at the intersections of a 10 nautical mile by 10 nautical mile square grid within the depth range occupied by Pacific halibut during summer months.

The following figure shows the survey station positions, charter region and areas surveyed.

Source: IPHC Report of Assessment and Research Activities, 2016

Starting in 2003, DFO, IPHC, and PHMA began collaborating on a program whereby an extra technician is deployed on IPHC charter vessel to collect both (1) hook by hook species identification data on the total catch and (2) biological data on rockfish species caught during survey fishing operations.

In 2006, DFO and PHMA began working collaboratively on a depth-stratified, random design research longline survey. DFO scientists developed the survey methodology and design. Each year PHMA funds and conducts the surveys to the required specifications, chartering up to three commercial vessels to do the research fishing and retaining onboard observers from a DFO-approved service provider to document the total catch and take biological samples.

The survey employs standardized longline gear, bait, and fishing methods so that results can be compared from year to year. The surveys are conducted between August 1 and September 15 each year and the research fishing must be carried out during daylight hours, with gear set 1⁄2 hour after sunrise and gear out of the water 1⁄2 hour before sunset. Each string of gear is set and hauled back after a two-hour soak. A temperature/depth recorder is snapped onto the groundline midway along each set. Species composition and catch rate are measured for all sets.

The survey alternates annually between northern and southern areas of coastal B.C. This year, 2018, the survey focuses on the southern British Columbia coast.

Below is a map overview of selected sampling blocks or set locations in 2018, which represent the randomized areas that survey fishing vessels must drop their lines for the test survey fishery.

The fishing vessels chartered to do the research fishing are not permitted to participate in commercial fishing while conducting the survey. The vessels must carry an onboard observer at all times to record all details of fishing effort, location, time, and duration, as well as determine species composition of the catch and undertake rockfish species biological sampling.

Information from the PHMA research program, together with other survey data, fishery, and catch information, forms the basis of many groundfish species stock assessments and science advice; some of which are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. These assessments and science advice are then used to make informed decisions on fishing opportunities and manage risks in a sustainable groundfish fishery.

The PHMA research program is a large expense for the wild Pacific halibut commercial fishery to expend; each year commercial fishermen contribute in excess of $600,000.00 to fund this program. This program represents just one way that commercial fishing families up and down the BC coast are investing in conservation, sustainable fishing, and responsible resource management.

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