By Jim Martin
The new Halibut Catch Sharing Plan was published in the Federal Register on June 28, during the height of the fishing season. Simply put, the plan would reallocate up to 30 or 50 percent of the fish from the recreational anglers to the commercial sector. Under most circumstances, this would result in a reduction in the bag limit for “guided anglers” who fish on charter vessels from two halibut to one; then the plan would offer anglers the “opportunity” to “rent” a second fish by paying a commercial quota shareholder.
In New Jersey they call this “extortion” but in Alaska it is called “fishery management.”
Charter operators are justifiably worried about the viability of their businesses under this plan. How many anglers are willing to pay thousands of dollars for lodging, food, airfare and a fishing trip for one fish that may weigh 14 pounds, on average? When SE Alaska was limited to one halibut, charter operators suffered a 50% loss in their business. How would this plan affect the many businesses in Homer that depend on recreational halibut fishing? Many local charter operators fear a total loss of their business if this rule is implemented.
How does NOAA Fisheries justify such a plan? The problem statement points to an “uncompensated reallocation” of halibut when guided anglers exceed their harvest guideline (this happened once in the last decade.) For the past several years, the guided angler harvest has been below its limit. The problem statement is no longer valid.
The solution, according to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, is to allocate less fish to the guided angler sector and shift it to commercial harvest. While this allocation shift would only add a negligible 3% to the commercial fishery, it represents a much larger impact to the charter fishing sector because its allocation is less than one-fourth of the pie. Under most circumstances, the new allocation would mean that charter anglers would only be allowed to keep one fish.
If the measure had a conservation benefit, most recreational anglers would support it. However, not a single halibut would be conserved for the future because it would be harvested in the commercial longline fishery. Recreational anglers are not seeking more fish. They want to keep their traditional allocation, unchanged.
The Alaska Charter Association, along with the Recreational Fishing Alliance and many other sportfishing groups are strongly opposed to this plan. A similar plan was pushed forward in 2011 and because of the public outcry the plan was rescinded. Public comment letters must be submitted before the August 12th deadline, and you can visit www.alaskacharter.org for sample letters, contact information, and links to the Federal rule.
Your comment should be sent to Mr. Glenn Merrill, NMFS Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668 or FAX: 907-586-7557. Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Your comment must reference “NOAA-NMFS-2011-0180” to be considered in the final decision.
Jim Martin is the West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
Comments are closed