Today’s commercial fishing fleet is diverse, using various strategies to harvest the resource. Both the Canadian and U.S.A. federal fisheries agencies have implemented individual quota (IQ) systems in Alaska and British Columbia, which enables a vessel to fish anytime during an extended season, and thus, use the market to their advantage. Pacific halibut commercial fisheries in Washington, Oregon, and California range from a directed commercial derby with 10-hr fishing periods, 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 to 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.
Commercial fisheries data organized by IPHC Regulatory Area, year, and sector is available here.