Federal fisheries managers in Alaska have put out for public review an analysis for a recreational quota entity to hold limited amounts of commercial halibut quota shares on behalf of guided recreational anglers.
The action came during the April meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage after hours of testimony. Longliners oppose the RQE as proposed, while many in the charter boat sector favor it. All written testimony, along the initial review document, the council motion and more are posted at the council’s website, www.npfmc.org
Even if the council takes final action on the RQE, as planned, during its December meeting in Anchorage, it will take at least a year to get final approval from the US Department of Commerce, and more time to write the regulations. According to council chairman Dan Hull, it could be at least five years before any RQE goes into effect, even if approved.
Council member Andy Mezirow, a charter boat operator, agreed that the RQE would likely be a long, slow reallocation of halibut quota. “There are a bunch of pieces to this that the council isn’t even weighing in on,” he said. These include where the money would come from for the charter boat operators to buy halibut quota.
Charter boat operators “don’t make money catching fish; we make money catching clients,” he said. “There still has to be a funding source that we have to borrow from and pay back.”
Charter boat operator James Kearns of Gustavus told the council that the real issue is that charter boat operators and businesses are not commercial fishermen. “They are really Coast Guard licensed taxi drivers,” he said. “Therefore the sports fishermen whom they transport are not commercial fishermen either, and thus it is not realistic or right that they be put in a commercial fishing allocation.”
Executive director Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association said that while the RQE may promote greater stability in the charter sector, it would do so at the expense of subsistence, non-guided sport fishermen, commercial harvesters, processors, support sector businesses, seafood wholesalers, retailers and millions of Americans who enjoy commercially harvested halibut.
Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition, expressed concern that the RQE would not require charter operators to invest their own money to purchase quota. It is a basic tenet of IFQ programs that investment tends to encourage resource stewardship, Gemmell said. There is also an issue of fairness if one sector pays and the other uses someone else’s money to get into the game, he said.