Thursday, February 8, 2007


In 1980 the Homer Charter Association was organized as a trade association to represent the local interests of the charter industry. Our mission statement reads:
The purpose of the organization shall be to enable persons or businesses to speak with a unified voice.
To promote the safety and operating conditions as they affect the charter industry for the best interests of both operators and their clients.
To seek means to enhance the industry's interests of the members--with an eye to diversification and lengthening the operating season.
To promote harmony and cooperation between the charter, commercial, and sportfishing interests in the Homer area.
In 1993 we began our involvement in the current management and allocation issue at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council with charter representatives across the state meeting and learning what our needs and our fears were. In 1994 we asked for and were denied a moratorium on new entry by the NPFMC and then again in 1995 by the State of Alaska in a Local Area Management Plan (LAMP) for Cook Inlet. In 1997 the NPFMC assigned us a maximum limit of fish called the Guideline Harvest Level which was 25% more than our average catch to provide some growth, to be shared by all operators within each area, Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Absent a moratorium the charter fleet continued to grow along with our catch until a few years back we exceeded that limit. We have learned from every past allocation dispute that forcing too many boats to fish for too few fish would result in economic instability within the industry, we saw the need to restrict new entry or give us a way to increase the number of fish we needed. Even though the GHL was originally more fish than we had ever taken before, we soon exceeded it, which in turn removed our over-harvest from the commercial allocation. We were now causing instability in the commercial fleet as well.
In 2000 we began exploring how the charter industry could mesh with the commercial fishery and provide a way to increase the charter amount while compensating the commercial fleet for their losses.
In December 2000 our plan to include halibut charters in the existing commercial IFQ plan was introduced to the council by the members of the existing charter industry, was passed 8 to 3, contested by the state, and re-approved again in October 6 to 5 by the NPFMC. We were told this plan would be “fast tracked” for submission and approval, this was in 2001. In 2005 the NPFMC and the National Marines Fisheries Service (NMFS) finally had the plan ready for approval.
Due to the 4 year delay, and not having a moratorium on new entry, we ended up with qualifying criteria requirements the newer charters did not meet. This problem was brought to the public’s attention in 2005, if these new operators would have to purchase enough fish to operate at their current levels they may be out of business, some after 4 years of building up their charter service, so they took their complaint to the NPFMC and the council decided to begin the management development all over again. We may be 4 or 5 years away from having another shot at controlling our industry. The current proposed moratorium will be a long over-due step in stabilizing the charter industry but it in itself will not be enough.
So now we have charters who want an end to this 13 year long fight while there is still economic viability and we have charters who do not support restrictions and want 50% of the fish to be taken from the commercial fleet, and some are beginning to bring a lawsuit to force the allocation issue into the courts.
The Homer Charter Association feels the federal government process of exploring, developing, debating, deciding, and then following through with the preferred plan has terribly failed the charter industry and they should be held responsible. The indecision by the NPFMC, the state obstructing the NPFMC process, the NMFS not doing their job for 4 years should not cost the charters, or the commercial fishermen.
HCA and many other charters have divided positions on the next step that needs to be taken, but we all find the 1 fish bag limit reduction for late June to be a poisoned pill for all of us. HCA has prevailed against this idea several times at the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and at the NPFMC back before we had a GHL but what is our argument for going over a GHL? Whether we liked how we got the GHL or not, it is the limit we now have. We may defeat the 1 fish proposal in this area this year because we are only 10% above our GHL, but in Southeast they are 46% over and the health of the resource is in jeopardy, so what can be done? What happens next year?
As we alert our customers of the proposed bag limit reduction are we digging a hole that may take several years to get out of? As word gets out some will not come to Alaska to fish, how many years will it take for us to have a stable season to offer?
The Homer Charter Association saw what was coming and in their 13 years of involvement prevented this draconian type of action but now we must all pay. We know the original plan would have caused financial requirements that would increase the cost of charter fishing, but at least it was not going to DOUBLE the cost of charter fishing as the 1 fish bag limit will do for late June anglers.
HCA is committed to continue working within the council process to facilitate the long term solution. In the near time the moratorium will provide stabilization for Homer area businesses that depend on the halibut resource as well as the tourist resource.

1 comment:

Halibuthead said...

This is a very good breakdown of what has occurred.

There is great responsibility/liability on the NPFMC and the NMFS and IPHC for the economic impact of their lack of action and in the case of the IPHC their action has caused.

The NPFMC has become a model for how not to run a fishery. So many businesses have taken financial losses due to their actions.

Two things need to happen. We need final action on this. And, we need to sue them for what they have done to all of us in the past.

Keep up the good work Bob and thanks for your years of hard work on this.