By Hannah Heimbuch
• Longtime Homer commercial fisherman Donald Lane appointed to halibut regulatory commission
As the first 2014 meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission opened in Seattle last week, Homer resident Donald Lane took his new seat at the table.
Lane, who has been longlining for halibut out of Homer for 32 years, is one of two Alaskans newly appointed to the Commission.
“This appointment is an honor,” Lane said. “The slate of nominees from Alaska were all respected and knowledgeable professionals in the halibut industry. To actually be the one appointed is an honor I have not quite digested.”
Dr. Jim Balsiger of Juneau was appointed at the same time, filling the commissioner seat designated for a United States fisheries management official. Balsiger is the Alaska Regional Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The U.S. appoints three commissioners in total, including one slated for an Alaska fisheries professional, the seat Lane now holds.
Lane owns and operates the fishing vessel Predator, from which he runs his longlining operation. His many years in the business gives him a working knowledge he can offer as the commission faces some challenging decisions.
“I especially appreciate the opportunity and the trust the industry has shown by my appointment,” Lane said. “The halibut stocks are in a troubling time with steep downward trends of halibut abundance in most areas of Alaska.”
With strong and diverse demand on a currently declining resource — commercial, sport charter, personal use, subsistence, and bycatch — management faces particular challenges in the near future, he said.
“Coming from many years of high abundance to these last year of declining abundance is a tough, long adjustment for Alaskan communities dependent on halibut in their economies,” he said. “I hope to assist the other commissioners in providing a stable IPHC information and decision-making base.”
He also wants to be sure that halibut doesn’t go the way of some other local fisheries that he has watched shift over the years.
“I participated in four fisheries right in Kachemak Bay — King crab, Tanner crab, Dungeness crab, and shrimp fishing,” Lane said. “None of those fisheries exist beyond an occasional personal use level anymore. I am dedicated to making sure there are halibut to fish for the future.”
As he begins his new position, Lane is particularly looking forward to helping the commission improve its outreach and public relations, he said, and hopes to improve public access to the commissioners in a way that is purposeful and consistent.
“I urge all users of halibut, commercial, recreational and subsistence to work with the commission and other interested groups so we make good decisions to keep our fisheries healthy and sustainable,” said Sen. Mark Begich in a recent release.
“The appointment of these two Alaskans will let the Commission get on with its important work. That work is especially important now, so that we can rebuild stocks from their current low levels.”
After following fisheries policy and politics for many years, Lane said, he decided to pursue the appointment in an effort to serve that process in a new and expanded way.
“I believed I had the practical knowledge of the halibut resource,” Lane said. “I have worked with the IPHC for a number of years doing stock assessment surveys with the F/V Predator, so had a good feel for the research mechanics.”
He has always wanted to participate more, he said, and hopes to call on the network of connections he developed, as a regular attendee of IPHC meetings of the years, as way to make his commissionership more effective.
“I developed many personal relationships with other halibut users and was comfortable with the good communications channels I had developed,” Lane said.
But the appointment doesn’t mean he’ll be giving up his life on deck.
“I am 60 this year,” Lane said. “I work to stay healthy and active and want to continue getting on the grounds as much as practical. Most of the summer I have a trusted friend skipper the Predator for me, and I relieve him in August. Then I take the F/V Predator longlining for halibut. Last year, 2013, we longlined in May. This year will be in the fall.”
While he is still an active fisherman, time away from the business at this point in his life is something he can manage.
“From observation, I knew the job would be time consuming, and challenging,” Lane said. “I have my fishing business in a place now where I need not be around day to day.”
Lane was the president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association for six years, and a member of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Homer Advisory Committee for eight years.
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