At the most recent International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) annual meeting in January, I learned that the first sovereign Treaty the Government of Canada signed was the Convention for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the Northern Pacific Ocean (a.k.a. the International Pacific Halibut Commission).  It was signed on March 2, 1923 or almost 94 years ago.  That is pretty old.

Considering the rash of recent headlines regarding international treaties it is fascinating to me that it all started for Canada with the Pacific Halibut.  It was created because halibut abundance had been on the decline and industry requested international control of the resource.  I also find it fascinating that almost 100 years ago, the industry of the day wanted to manage halibut sustainably.  It is, in fact, the same today.

At the IPHC meetings, American and Canadian industry reps are working together towards the common goal of harvesting halibut sustainably so that, 94 years from now, the halibut will be still plentiful.  Pacific Halibut is the world renowned example of a sustainable fishery and it can truly be a renewable resource when managed accordingly.

How It Works

The IPHC annual meetings are alternately hosted in Canada and the US.  This year they were in Victoria, BC.  Each country has three commissioners, who collaboratively reach the final decisions on catch limits, regulatory proposals and other actions as necessary.  The host country generally chairs the meetings along with a vice chairperson from the other country.  The Commissioners consider inputs from the IPHC staff, the Conference Board (harvesters), and Processor Advisory Group in making their decisions.

It was great to be in a room with so many other harvesters and talk about why the halibut fishery is important to them.  Some may be commercial fishers from Alaska or Washington states, some may be from the sports sector, and others were there to represent First Nations from both countries.  One thing resonated amongst every person I talked to: they wanted Pacific Halibut to be harvested sustainably so that 100 years into the future it will still be an important resource.

In BC, our halibut fishery is part of a larger management plan.  The Integrated Groundfish Management Plan encompasses all groundfish species and gear methods.  “The management of these fisheries is  integrated with all groups subject to 100% at sea monitoring and 100% dockside monitoring, individual vessel accountability for all catch (both retained and released), individual transferable quotas (ITQ), and reallocation of these quotas between vessels and fisheries to cover catch of non directed species.”  This means that we, as commercial harvesters, are accountable for every pound of every fish we catch.

One challenge we have faced is that there has been no forum or organized method for harvesters to strive for accountability.  Each individual vessel has to cover all of their quota and lease or trade for that which they do not have.  Enter SeafoodX.  SeafoodX will allow halibut fishermen to lease in and out all the various ITQ’s they need to prosecute their fishery and to contribute to its longevity.  This leads to more sustainable business practices to complement the sustainable fishery so that, 100 years from now, harvesters will still be talking halibut at the IPHC.