Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Recreational Halibut Quota Faces Opposition

A charter halibut recreational quota entity (RQE) program scheduled for an initial review at North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting under way in Anchorage is drawing fire from commercial harvesters.

The proposed management measures would apply exclusively to the guided angler sport (charter) halibut fisheries and commercial halibut setline fisheries in International Pacific Halibut Commission’s regulatory areas 2C and 3A.

One measure under consideration would allow a recreational quota entity to be established to represent the charter sector in the acquisition of commercial halibut quota share, which could augment management measures annually recommended by the council, approved by the IPHC and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service through federal regulations.

The second alternative under consideration is a recency action that would retire charter halibut permits that have been latent according to one of two proposed thresholds. These actions are not mutually exclusive.

The complete initial review draft document is posted on the council’s website, Also online are 84 pages of public comment, including letters of opposition from the Halibut Coalition, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union, Petersburg Vessel Owner’s Association, Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, Cordova District Fishermen United, and others.

Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition, said the coalition recommended that the RQE issue be remanded back to a broad-based committee to take a hard look at perceived problems in the charter sector. These include latent permits, effects of sharing charter halibut permits between vessels without formal leasing/transfer, retirement of non-transferable CHP, season length, voluntary measures to allocate fish within the sector, transfer of guided angler fish between charter operations, an enforceable mechanism to purchase GAF after fish is landed, and an RQE limited to buying and sequestering CHP.

“While ALFA members appreciate that charter proponents are proposing to purchase, rather than take additional quota, the subsidized reallocation proposed by the RQE will substantially destabilize other sectors that depend on the halibut resource and may do so unnecessarily, as halibut stocks recover, or without accomplishing stated goals, if charter effort and harvest increase,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the ALFA.

The catch sharing plan and the guided angler fish program are still fairly new programs without enough time to fully determine if tweaks in this program would be sufficient for an individual charter operator to stabilize their own operations, said Kathy Hansen, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance.

“The commercial fishing sector feels that to have an equitable compensated reallocation program that doesn’t inflate the quota share prices, the charter operators need to be funding the program and responsible for the loans or getting the grants,” she said in written testimony.

“Based on the CATCH (Catch Accountability Through Compensated Halibut) program documents, the charter operators behind this action are wanting a funding source that the client pays for i.e. a government halibut stamp,” she said. With a program on an individual basis or a pool program paid by the charter operators themselves, they have a stake in the program and won’t overfund, over-buy because it affects their own pocketbook, she said.

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