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South Central Fishermen Concerned Over Proposed Halibut Catch Share Plan

July 26, 2013|By Samantha Angaiak | Channel 2 News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Tension has been mounting in south central Alaska among commercial fishermen and charter operators concerned about new rules in a proposed plan by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to implement a halibut catch share plan.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council says the goal of the halibut catch share plan is to adjust the percentage of allocation of halibut between the charter sector and the commercial fishery to reflect more recent catch patterns.

Chris Oliver, the executive director of North Pacific Management Council, says he hopes the new plan will create rules that can change as needed.

"What's critical about the catch share allocation and what's different is that it allows allocation to fluctuate at different levels of abundance," Oliver said.


Oliver says the allocation levels will increase when the halibut biomass goes up and will drop when it goes down.

"Right now, we have a high and stable halibut biomass - the problem is there's a lot of small fish and we're not sure why they're not growing to the size that they have historically grown," Oliver said. "The good news being there's a lot of small fish so based on what we can see now and current harvest levels, we don't expect to go to a one fish bag limit in south central Alaska."

Tom Gemmell, the Executive Director of the Halibut Coalition, says the current rules needed changing.

"The model doesn't work very well in terms of sharing the conservation responsibility for the halibut," Gemmell said.

Jim Martin, a spokesman for The Alaska Charter Association says the proposed plan is confusing about its expectations for bag limits.

"We see about a 30 percent drop in allocation that would be enough in a lot of situations to reduce the bag limit of charter anglers from two fish to one fish in south central Alaska, so that's a big concern," Martin said.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council says despite the confusion, it's unlikely the plan would call for a reduction in bag limits for charter operators.

"Based on what we see now and the current harvest levels and what we see in terms of the halibut biomass projections, we don't think we're going to need to go to a one fish bag limit," Oliver said.

NPFMC said even if the bag limit was reduced, there are safeguards in the plan.

"There is a provision that will allow charter operators to lease up fish from the commercial sector and offer their client an additional fish," Oliver said.

The Alaska Charter Association says the provision in the plan wouldn't be a fair compromise for allocation.

"We're willing to live within those limits, but not willing to give up allocation and then rent it back," Martin said.

NOAA made an announcement that it would continue public comment until August 26th on Wednesday, adding an additional 14 days for people to weigh in, but there are concerns about whether charter crews would have enough time to review the plan before weighing in.

"The guys work twelve to fourteen hours a day and they're not taking days off," Martin said. "It takes about 8 hours to plow through it, when do people have time to do that."

Others say the plan has been around long enough and there have been plenty of opportunities for people to voice their opinions.

"This catch sharing plan was first adopted by the council in October 2008 and there were many many meetings on that and lots of opportunities for public comment during the rule making stage in 2011," Gemmell said. "There was about 4,000 comments submitted then."

Despite clarification questions, both commercial fishermen and charter operators say they are willing to compromise for the future of the halibut.

"I think it is a fair plan and this latest go around of commercial sector and central gulf lost more fish to the charter side -- quite a big bump of allocation for them, but that's just the way it goes in the council process," Gemmell said.

"I don't think the charter fishermen are opposed to having a limit, certainly not and are opposed to conservation, but we just want a fair allocation," Martin said.

Editor's Note: Clarifies National Marine Fisheries Service to North Pacific Fishery Management Council

Contact: Samantha Angaiak Articles