Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Restructured Groundfish, Halibut Observer Program Draws Fire

A final rule to restructure the North Pacific observer program for groundfish and halibut is set for publication in early December, with implementation in January, but many in the commercial fishing industry say they can’t support the program.

At issue is the cost to the industry and a whole lot more.

According to harvesters, processors and conservationists who are seeking help from Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Sean Parnell, the restructured plan would double costs, halve observer days, reduce coverage in high volume fisheries with substantial Chinook and halibut bycatch, and fail to provide a workable monitoring system for small vessels.

The group is asking Parnell and Alaska’s congressional delegation to help hold the National Marine Fisheries Service accountable for addressing industry concerns prior to implementation of the restructured program or at minimum, prior to deployment of observers in the vessel selected pool.

That’s the category applying to catcher vessels fishing with hook-and-line and pot gear that are less than 57.5 feet in overall length, and, for the first year, greater than or equal to 40 feet in overall length.
The group contends that the plan places the largest economic burden on the 1,300 small boats operating out of Alaska’s coastal communities. It also reduces coverage in high volume fisheries with substantial Chinook and halibut bycatch, and doubles the cost of an observer day relative to current levels, and assigns over half of the observed trips to vessels accounting for less than 12 percent of the catch, they said.

The letter is signed by an eclectic bunch, ranging from the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and United Fishermen’s Marketing Association to the Halibut Association of North America, Alaska Trollers Association, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition.

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