Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Halibut Charter Proposal Under Fire

Proposed changes in management of Pacific halibut charter fisheries and commercial setline fisheries to allow for a recreational quota entity aren’t going anywhere fast.

After hours of testimony before the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage, the council voted to send the controversial proposal back to council staff for further analysis and information to be incorporated into another initial review draft analysis at a future meeting.

The council approved unanimously on Dec. 13 a motion by council member Andy Mezirow, of Seward, Alaska, which said the new analysis should evaluate, among other things, the effects of transferring commercial individual fishing quota shares to the charter sector on observer fee revenues, and IFQ administrative fees.

The motion also instructed council staff to evaluate the mechanics of a concept by which the Guided Angler Fish limit now in place is reduced in accordance with the recreational quota entity quota holdings to meet a cumulative limit.

The motion offered three alternatives, including no action, establishing a RQE as a qualified non-profit entity to purchase and hold commercial halibut quota shares for use by the guided halibut sector, and RQE purposes of charter halibut permits.

The proposed changes are strongly opposed by those engaged in the setline halibut fisheries, who testified that such action would cause further economic damage by reallocating quota shares to the charter industry. Jeff Farvour, a halibut fisherman from Sitka, asked the council to consider “the magnitude of inequity” in allowing an RQE to acquire halibut IFQ for its sector without allowing the halibut IFQ sector the opportunity to buy a charter halibut permit to convert to IFQ. “IF we can do one it’s only reasonable to do the other,” Farvour said. “Otherwise there is only loss in it for the halibut fishery, Alaskan communities and our domestic halibut market.”

Jeff Stephan, representing United Fishermen’s Marketing Association at Kodiak, said the UFMA does not support “the dispossession of commercial IFQ halibut from individual halibut fishermen, the commercial IFQ pool, processing plants, processing workers, support businesses, local governments and Alaska coastal communities.

A charter halibut RQE will also drive up the price of commercial halibut IFQ, he said, making it more difficult for new entrants to enter the fishery and for current participants to purchase additional IFQ in amounts that make it profitable to continue to harvest IFQ halibut in times of low abundance such as they are now experiencing, he said.

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