Non-Directed - IPHC Regulatory Area 2B

Non-Directed - IPHC Regulatory Area 2B

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) directs policy and management programs concerning bycatch, and implements the policies and enforces the regulations.

Incidental catch of Pacific halibut in groundfish trawl fisheries off Canada’s western province of British Columbia, although lower than in Alaska, was still a problem historically. Canada allowed fishing by foreign vessels until 1979. Since then, only Canadian domestic vessels have prosecuted the fishery, with the exception of a joint venture operation using midwater trawls for Pacific whiting. Pacific halibut bycatch mortality in the trawl fishery had been relatively stable, averaging 1.6 million pounds (968 t) annually during 1990 to 1995. Until 1995, virtually no regulations were in place to control bycatch. A small voluntary observer program had operated for several years providing information to estimate Pacific halibut bycatch in the trawl fishery. Then, in 1995, the DFO initiated a staged reduction of trawl bycatch mortality by first implementing a Pacific halibut mortality limit for the trawl fishery, with a goal of reducing bycatch mortality to one million pounds (605 t) by 1997.

To provide further incentive to reach the bycatch goal, in 1996, DFO implemented a groundbreaking system of individual vessel bycatch quotas (IVBQ), along with a 100% mandatory observer program, for bottom trawl vessels in all major groundfish fishing areas. The IVBQ system made individual fishers responsible for their own bycatch, thus providing incentive to minimize their bycatch. Fishers made dramatic changes to fishing operations, primarily through reduced towing time, improved handling of discarded fish, and increased area/time/depth selectivity in their operations. Other measures not directly targeted to Pacific halibut also had an effect, such as increased trawl mesh size, delayed openings, time/area closures originally directed at reducing rockfish bycatch, and a season-long closure of Pacific cod due to conservation concerns. In the end, the trawl fishery reduced its Pacific halibut bycatch mortality from 1.5 million pounds (907 t) in 1995 to approximately 299,000 pounds (181 t) in 1996, well below the 1997 goal. Since that time, bycatch has remained low, ranging from 150,000 to 350,000 pounds (91 to 212 t) annually.

In 2006, DFO implemented the Commercial Groundfish Integrated Pilot Program, which covered all groundfish fisheries, including Pacific halibut. The program sought to address concerns about adequate monitoring, catch reporting, and full accountability of catches. The program was comprised of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) for all species, the ability to retain species which had previously been discarded, a requirement that harvesters acquire quota to cover the mortality of all catch, including discards, and quota transfers between fisheries. The program was refined in the initial years of the pilot period, and became permanent in 2010. Within the Commercial Groundfish Integration Program, Pacific halibut can now be retained in some fisheries where it had been historically discarded, but only if quota was obtained from Pacific halibut IVQ holders. This allows for a fuller and more accurate accounting of Pacific halibut mortality occurring in all fisheries.

The following table from the 2016 RARA, Chapter 2.6 Incidental Catch of Halibut, shows bycatch mortality in recent years.