Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fish council considers limited entry for halibut charter operators

rticle published on Thursday, February 15th, 2007
Mirror Writer
Halibut charter management remained a hot topic as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council moved toward clapping a lid on the number of halibut charter operators in areas 2C and 3A, in their February meeting that ended Tuesday.

The council approved the initial review draft of the moratorium analysis, which includes a preliminary preferred alternative.

The preferred alternative would implement a moratorium or limited entry into the charter halibut fisheries in areas 2C and 3A using a control date of Dec. 9, 2005.

“There will be a limited number of permits out there in the world after you implement this program,” council fisheries analyst Nicole Kimball said, noting the terms “moratorium” and “limited entry” refer to the same thing.

The council identified a preferred alternative to help the public get a sense of where the council is going with its final action, council plan coordinator Jane DiCosimo said.

Council staff is now developing the public review draft, the next version of the analysis that will be ready in early March.

“That is the version the council will look at in late March to take action on,” Kimball said.

The draft will be posted the week of March 12 on the council Web site for the public to view and comment on.

Kimball said it is typical for the council to add options or tweak the initial review draft, which often includes input from the public.

“It is definitely a changed analysis, not just rewording it, but analyzing different options,” she said.

“Mainly, the council got these ideas through public testimony at the council meeting. They hear where people are headed and what other things people want to look at. They are fairly receptive to that and they add in what they think is necessary,” Kimball said.

Before the council takes final action, it will hear public testimony again.

DiCosimo said there was a half day of public testimony on the halibut charter issue and estimated 25 to 30 people spoke, but as many as 100 testified on other issues.

“The meeting was in Portland, so not everybody could get down there,” she said.

The final action will take place at the March NPFMC meeting in Anchorage. Implementation would not occur until the 2009 fishing season.

“This is not as controversial an issue as other actions will be,” DiCosimo said. “There is a fair amount of support for a moratorium. This is not an allocation issue with the commercial sector, so it doesn’t bring those people in.

“The commercial guys don’t have too strong a feeling on how the limited entry program for the other sector should be decided. It’s not that big of an issue for the commercial side.”

Kodiak charterboat owner and operator Michael Ensley said a moratorium is a good idea, but it comes too late. He believes it should have gone into place the second time the council tried to restrict charter halibut harvest.

“This is the third time they’ve talked about a date,” Ensley said. “It’s good, but Kodiak really doesn’t need it. We’re lumped into Area 3A. It’s good for that reason. If they ever divide us up, then I really don’t like it for Kodiak.”

He said a moratorium gives local charterboat owners stability because Kodiak tourism is slow, but he is concerned restrictions could be extended to all sportfish species.

DiCosimo said the idea for a limited entry program came from the charter sector.

“It’s not seen as a tool that will restrict harvest. It is the first step in narrowing the field.

“It’s the next step after a limited entry program is selected that proposes to restrict harvest,” DiCosimo said.

That next step could be a type of permit endorsement that would limit the permit holder to a certain number of clients, or a set amount of fishing days.

“Or it may go completely to a quota share program like we had previously composed,” DiCosimo said.

“This is seen as an interim but necessary step to get to harvest restrictions,” she said.

The council and some commercial halibut fishermen believe harvest restrictions for the charter halibut fleet are necessary because of guideline harvest level overages during the past few years, higher in area 2C than Area 3A.

To address the issue, the council will look at another draft of the GHL analysis, which proposes eight possible management tools to restrict charter halibut harvest in area 2C.

An initial review will take place at the council’s March meeting with the final action in June. Implementation is planned for 2008.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission recently recommended a reduction in the Southeast and Southcentral Alaska charterboat halibut bag limit to one fish per day per angler for part of the summer.

The vote will take effect if approved by the U.S. secretary of Commerce.

“We couldn’t do it for ’07,” DiCosimo said. “The IPHC felt it could. It went forward with their recommended action for ’07 and it is now under secretarial consideration.”

The council has worked on this issue since the early 1990s.

“We have attempted three previous times to institute management measures that would restrict charter halibut harvest,” DiCosimo said.

In 2006, the council adopted a five-fish bag limit that would have been in place for 2007. The cost of implementing the program was found prohibitive, so the council rescinded it.

“That’s why there is nothing in place for ’07,” DiCosimo said. “The document that is coming back in March is a redo on the one that the council adopted in 2006.”

The council announced it will probably initiate an analysis for Area 3A.

“Every year we’re seeing the trends for charter halibut harvest increasing,” DiCosimo said.

She said Area 3A is already 10 percent over its GHL.

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