Homer’s halibut charters face new regulations

• New halibut charter limits leave some 100 boats out of the water in 2011

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Photo provided - Capt. Bruce Lozekar, aboard the F/V Memory Maker, is one of Area 3A halibut charter captains who is eligible for the new federal permit that limits how many fishermen can take halibut from aboard charter boats.

Photo provided - Capt. Bruce Lozekar, aboard the F/V Memory Maker, is one of Area 3A halibut charter captains who is eligible for the new federal permit that limits how many fishermen can take halibut from aboard charter boats.

Homer’s reputation as halibut capital of the world has suffered a serious blow as local charter boat captains come to terms with new rules that will force up to one-quarter of them out of business in Area 3A.
New charter boat captains will have to find someone willing to sell them a permit before being allowed to take clients fishing for halibut from the central Gulf of Alaska to Southeast Alaska as part of efforts aimed at preventing overfishing.

 Current captains who didn’t fish certain years — or didn’t take out a certain number of clients — will not be permitted.
The new rules, published last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, go into effect in early 2011. That means this summer, charters will continue as usual.
After that, however, the new regulations will stem the tide on the growing halibut charter boat business along a major portion of Alaska’s coastline. Charter boat guides who have been in business for three random years in the 21st century — 2004, 2005 and 2008 — will be able to get permits. Newcomers will have to find someone with a transferable permit willing to sell.

According to NOAA, the restriction is needed to keep the growing number of charter boats from overfishing for halibut.
“The new program will stabilize the guided charter fishing sector, maintain access to the fishery for businesses that participated in recent years and allow access for others who can obtain transferable permits,” said Doug Mecum, Alaska’s acting regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries.

Opponents of the move complain that draggers waste halibut in by-catch, and commercial operators are allowed to catch far more than the charter fleet.

 This, more than the amount caught by sport fishermen, causes a decline in halibut numbers, according to testimony before the new rules were written.
Homer charter boat Capts. Bob Howard and Kent Haina say the rules will put them out of business unless they can find a transferable permit.
“I will have to go through the process of applying for a permit. Then, if denied, I can appeal,” Howard explained.
Haina is considering his options, saying the federal regulations are confusing because he is uncertain if the new rules now mean he can’t take out clients for salmon, rockfish and species other than halibut.

Costly repairs?
A retired, 65-year-old civil engineer who got into the charter boat business in 2001, Howard went out of business until 2006 while he spent $100,000 upgrading the 32-foot Sea Nymph. 
“I wanted to get my boat reconstructed to better outfit it for recreational fishing,” Howard said.
He was in the charter business in 2001, and 2006 through 2009. He has taken as many as 430 clients out.
As past president of the Alaska Charter Association, Howard has been involved in the public process since 2006. At that time, federal fisheries agencies began debating the issue and took public hearings.
“I was real familiar with what was proposed and the process,” Howard said. “I expressed my opposition.”
Most of the Alaska coastline will be impacted by the new ruling. Rex Murphy, owner of Winter King Fishing Charters, said National Marine Fisheries Service estimates showed the combined area includes about 922 charter boat captains. Permit holders in 2C (Southeast Alaska down to Juneau and Sitka) and permit holders east of Kodiak Island in 3A — including Homer and Anchor Point — would not be able to sell permits to each other.
The NMFS estimates that, of the 502 permit holders in 2C, 347 will be transferable; of the 418 in 3A, 319 will be transferrable. This process effectively eliminates a quarter of the halibut charter operators out there, Murphy said. That would leave some 666 operators.
“Now remember, these are just estimates,” Murphy said. “If you live in 3A, you need to sell your permit to another person in 3A.”
The appeal process for those who currently don’t qualify for a permit includes pleading hardship. If a captain were unable to take out fishermen due to sickness or military service, or if he were making boat repairs, he would be considered a good candidate in the appeal process, Murphy said.
This means Capt. Howard — doing work on his boat that made him miss two seasons — may be able to successfully appeal.
The application process opens Feb. 4 and goes until April 5. NOAA Fisheries plans to mail out application packets, which are also available on the Web site at alaskafisheries.noaa.gov, or by calling 1-800-304-4846, and pushing option 2.

Making halibut memories
Brenda Hays, who commercially fished halibut for 19 years and now owns the F/V Memory Maker, said she believes this moratorium on new permits is a more acceptable idea than halibut IFQs.
“We all knew something had to be done. Selling my IFQs in some ways was a big mistake. I possibly could have applied them to the sport fishing industry, which I’m now a part of,” Hays said. “If I had to buy them now to stay in the sport fishing business, I couldn’t afford to do it.”
The Memory Maker passes eligibility requirements for permitting, which means Hays and Maker’s Capt. Bruce Lozekar will not be impacted.
“However, for a young person who wants to get into this business, it will be very difficult to find a permit that is for sale, and find the financing for said permit,” Hays said. “This is not advantageous for our younger generations — how will they be able to get into charter fishing now?”
In the IPHC 2008 Report, the total halibut catch for area 3A was 24.5 million pounds, while the total for all areas was 58.5 million pounds. The
“sport” catch in 3A was 5.6 million, with a total catch of 10.7 million for all areas.
“I feel those numbers speak for themselves,” Hays pointed out. “These numbers obviously show that the sport catch is a much lesser percentage of the total catch. However, the bycatch quota is not properly weighed, but guesstimated, and I feel their numbers could be way off.”
When 2009 numbers come out, it’s likely they will show that fewer tourists this summer mean even less halibut were caught in the sport fish category, she said.
“As for giant halibut, which are female, there is always the hope that someone will get one of historical size, and having a halibut derby enforces this because there is a considerable reward attached,” Hays explained. “The truth is, most trophy fish are stronger in taste. And many people can’t use that much fish in their freezers. Most of our clients prefer fish in the 20 to 40 pound range for table fare. If they get fish that are a little bigger or smaller, they are happy to catch and release. Female halibut have thousands of eggs, and when they are taken, this is a major loss for the species.”
Regardless, Hays said the ruling has merit because it may protect the fish for future generations.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Posted by on Jan 13th, 2010 and filed under Headline News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

10 Responses for “Homer’s halibut charters face new regulations”

  1. Wes Cannon says:

    10.7 million pounds is 20% of the total catch and as you mentioned does not figure in the bycatch of the entire commercial fishing fleet. Its obvious that the commercial fleet makes the largest impact on any species. The real issue is setting one economic group against the other. The charter operators are making a living the same as the commercial fishers. One is no more valid than the other. Commercial hunting was stopped because of too great an impact on the species being hunted. The impact of 2 fish per day (20%) is not that significant and has the benefit of going directly to the consumer, reducing added impacts to the environment. Reductions to the 80% of halibut taken should be the priority, until stocks reach sustainable levels. As far as new licenses go, economics will take care of that; creating another “license market” could be good or bad – haven’t researched that yet.

  2. Bruce Hess says:

    The total allocation for the entire charter fleet is 10.7 million pounds. What a joke it is limiting the Halibut charter fleet. The yearly bycatch of halibut by the Alaska ground fish fisheries exceeds this amount by millions of pounds on a yearly basis. That’s where the outrage should be but these are the biggest money fisheries in the world so guess who wins and who looses.

  3. Willy Nye says:

    This is another chapter in the ongoing saga of greed. Charter boats are not commercial fishers- they provide a platform for sport fishers to catch fish.
    As far back as 1993 I recall telling Bob Ward and his cohorts to concentrate on the wasted millions of pounds of the drag fleet. That still has not been done. I see no legitimacy at all in these new regulations, or any need to abide by them.

    • Brenda Hays says:

      It’s unfortunate that the commercial and sports fishing groups (instead of fighting each other,) did not join forces against the draggers. We can only hope now that NOAA will do something other than having useless Observers on board the trawl fleet. Something must be done about their by-catch, agreed by all it seems. I was not for the moratorium, nor IFQs for Sports, now that it’s a done deal however, maybe the pressure will let up on the Sports fleet and move on to the seriousness of trawler destruction. If they keep the pressure on the Sports guys and we go to a one fish limit, we are all out of jobs in Homer, as no tourist s will come here for one fish!

  4. Bruce Hess says:

    My mistake the total sport catch of halibut is 10.7. million not just the charter fleets catch. So, again think about the fact that the the Alaska ground fish fisheries discard on average over 13 million pounds of halibut every year. Two million pounds more than the entire sports catch of the state. The outrage should be with the wanton waste of the factory trawlers.

  5. Dave Longley says:

    What nobody seems to address here is the fact that this new rule will do absolutely nothing to limit the number of halibut being caught by the charter fleet out of Homer. There will still be open seats on charter boats when the new regulations go into effect and the only effect will be to reduce the number of charter operations people will have to choose from. How interesting it is to me that the charter operators that helped draft this rule very conveniently fit within the qualification criteria. Why should someone like me that is trying to start his own serious charter operation be denied that chance just because I didn’t happen to be fishing in the arbitrarily designated years?

  6. Gart Curtis says:

    I think it’s a huge mistake to allow the permits to be transferrable. Any charter skipper on the verge of retirement is receiving a bonus from the government, and any young person in AK who had hopes of starting his/her own operation is seeing those hopes placed beyond financial reach. Like the scenario played out with commercial IFQ’s, over time this is going to move business away from individuals and locals and concentrate it with large outfits who can offer the highest price when the permits come up for sale. So the future local skippers, unless lucky enough to inherit a permit, will end up working for someone else instead of for themselves.

    If it’s necessary to reduce the catch limits, then start setting numbers and goals for areas, but let supply and demand determine the size of the fleet.

    • Wes Cannon says:

      Gart, As I said, I hadn’t really researched the impact of transferable licenses but I tend to agree with you from all I know so far. The “exclusive club” license leans toward those who are “commercial” in providing a platform for the taking of sport caught fish. It would be much more fair to have the licenses return to the state. The down side of that is the number of licenses is the whim of the Board of Fisheries(dominated by commercial fishing interests). With downward trends of halibut stock, it will be Southcentral charters turn to support the 1 halibut limit to benifit the commercial fleet. Just seems a logical progression.

  7. franan says:

    you people are talking about halibut as though it is an Alaskan issue – when the stock is a matter of international treaty and national regulation. Commercial fishermen don’t put what they catch into their freezers – they provide cost effective halibut to the public – far more cost effective than going out on a charter. As far as the draggers – the bulk of what they discard is very small juveniles – and they along with the foreign draggers who have fished here for decades have done so as the halibut resource has rebounded from very low catches in the 70′s. This whole situation is a south-east problem where the lodges are decimating localized halibut populations. There is also not enough to go around and provide for stable employment and industry. This just isn’t the wild west anymore folks – the entire world’s coastal countries have been very progressive in making ‘limited entry’ the manner in which they manage for the fisheries resources and stability of industry at the same time. The migration of either tourists or commercial fleets into an area without regard for their historical contribution to the local economy is not even held in high regrad along the coast of Africa. The quasi ‘populist’ argument you folks make about halibut ignores how far the discussion has come and what the decision makers are grappling with at this point in time. The calls to shut down the trawling industry which provides about 40 times more protein for the world than halibut does – is a bit myopic – even the nazi greenies understand that when they get to the table.

  8. franan says:

    …and incidentally – this article quotes two people Bob Howard and Kent Haina who don’t like the halibut regs because it isn’t ‘fair’. These guys show up out of the blue and basically say “Where’s mine”. Guys that have been in charters for a long time and lived around the commercial fishermen have very little use for that attitude. You can’t blame the newspaper – they don’t really have anyone around who understands diddly about anything in fishing – except maybe how to tie a bobber on their toe and go to sleep with a hook and worm in the water.

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