By Tom Gemmell
“We strongly encourage folks to take the time to sit down and read the actual text of the plan so they’ll have the facts before commenting,” urges Dr. Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for the federal agency responsible for managing the halibut resource in the U.S.
He’s talking about the halibut catch sharing plan (CSP), the last in a two-decade long effort to bring the charter sector into a management regime that would allow it to thrive without exceeding an agreed-to annual limit.
In 2003 the Guideline Harvest Level (GHL) for charters in Area 3A (South Central) was 14 percent of the combined commercial and charter catch. The currently proposed CSP increases the South Central charter percentage to 18.9 percent at low abundance, 17.5 percent at medium abundance, and 14 percent at high abundance. That’s a 35 percent increase at low abundance and a 25 percent increase at medium abundance.
Those who read the plan will see how it works. In an analysis, the catch sharing plan compares itself to the GHL for the years 2008 – 2012. Last year, if the charter sector in South Central had been managed under the CSP, they would have had 2,343,000 pounds to catch. Under the GHL the charter catch would have been 2,375,000 pounds. The 32,000 pound difference would not have triggered much of a management restriction; certainly not a one-fish bag limit.
The CSP brings the charter sector into the management decision process. It gives them an annual mechanism to recommend to the Council management measures that minimize impacts on their businesses. They don’t have this with the GHL, which is a prescriptive matrix that’s both rigid and difficult to understand. The key ingredient here is good faith effort to work with the Council.
The one-fish bag limit was applied in Southeast after the charter sector exceeded its annual catch limits five years in a row. It’s hard to say what effect that had on businesses in Southeast since the deepest recession in decades occurred simultaneously. In both Southeast and South Central bottomfish angler days had declined by 20 percent since before the recession. However, of the six 2009 plaintiffs who (unsuccessfully) filed suit to block a one-fish bag limit in Area 2C, at least five are still in business. One plaintiff has expanded his business since 2009. The one who no longer has a business license still has a charter halibut permit and may have been affected by other factors—such as the recession and the local economy.
Four years ago we heard that limited entry on the charter industry would kill it. Two years ago we heard that the version of the catch sharing plan being considered, which was more restrictive than the current one, would be the death knell of the industry. So the Council went back to the drawing board and increased the charter allocation.
Now we hear that charter anglers will not pay for a trip with a one-fish bag limit. Let’s look at the record. According to ADF&G, in 2011 Southeast charter operators had 111,120 saltwater angler days and caught 39,100 large Chinook, 1,247 small Chinook, 171,660 coho, 996 sockeye, 68,005 other salmon, 51,794 halibut, 5,381 lingcod, 113,176 rockfish, and 5,127 sablefish. Of the total 461,667 fish caught, 11% were halibut. Southeast charter operators know how to promote a fishing experience that includes more than just halibut.
The Council, NMFS, and the charter sector have worked collaboratively for several years, through several week-long meetings, charter subcommittee meetings and other gatherings to develop the CSP. In a February 22, 2012 meeting of the Charter Management Implementation Committee, attended by 11 charter associations, their recommendation was that “The proposed CSP allocations need to be adjusted to closely approximate the Guideline Harvest Level allocation in Areas 2C and 3A that floats with abundance.”
The Council pretty much met this goal and others. It is time to stop all the delaying tactics and implement the CSP so we can devote our energies to a more sustainable and abundant future.
Tom Gemmell is the Executive Director of the Halibut Coalition and a six decade resident of Alaska who has lived in eight Alaska communities. His experience includes Coast Guard fishery patrols in Alaska and over a decade working with fishery associations.
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