Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NPFMC Moves on Halibut, Observer, Freezer Longline Vessel Issues

Federal fisheries regulators meeting in early October in Anchorage approved new halibut catch sharing and vessel observer plans, and cleared the way for replacement or rebuilding freezer longline vessels to greater lengths.

The halibut catch sharing plan, which increases the allocation for charter vessels at the expense of the setline fleet, establishes a clear allocation, with sector accountability for commercial and charter vessels in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Once the plan is implemented, both sectors will be tied to the same abundance index and both will be accountable for their own wastage.

Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition, estimated the loss in quota share value at $11 million to $23 million in area 3A and $1.6 million to $2.3 million in area 2C, depending on abundance levels.

Rex Murphy, speaking for the Alaska Charter Association, contended that the council’s action gave no boost to the charter allocation. Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, disagreed, saying Murphy was comparing the new allocations to what the charter allocation has become in 2012, which is very different than where the guideline harvest level was set.

The council also approved revisions to its observer deployment plan that reflect a priority for monitoring vessels managed under prohibited species catch limits in the trip selection pool. That measure also asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide a strategic planning document for electronic monitoring that identifies the council’s electronic monitoring management objective of collecting at-sea discard estimates from the 40-foot to 57.5 foot individual fishing quota fleet.

In addition the council gave freezer longline vessel owners approval to replace their fleet to a greater length, which will make the vessels more market competitive and safer. The average age of these vessels is more than 40 years old.

In his testimony to the council Kenny Down, executive director of the Freezer Longline Coalition, noted that as he was speaking his son Jake was working on board one of those vessels. “We need to move forward for the safety of kids like my son Jake,” he said.

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