Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Moving the Halibut Controversy Forward

From, mike heimbuch

Moving the Halibut Controversy Forward

This position paper is written in the hope of attracting moderate voices and leadership to the controversy surrounding the halibut charter industry in Alaska. In spite of federal control and management of the halibut resource, it is Alaska’s communities that are being divided by the shrill and undisciplined voices of debate. We should have the right, and responsibility, to secure peace amongst our commercial industries without the influence of those whose views of public resources have no regard for the history and delicacy of coastal Alaska economy.

In the halibut charter controversy much has been made about the public owning this resource and having the highest priority for access to it. This is widely accepted as true and to the extent that a person catches halibut, without being aided by any commercial business entity, there has been no attempt to diminish that access. It is also true that halibut plays a critical role in Alaska’s maritime economy. As a result, unregulated access public access to halibut, through any commercial enterprise, can be a threat to the stability of coastal communities.

For proof of this we need look no further than the fact that 100% of the maximum sustained yield of the halibut resource is caught every year. Commercial enterprises do this either by bring the resource to the public or bringing the public to the resource. Since both the commercial and the charter fleets provide public access to the resource for a fee, and most of the people who eat halibut don’t come to Alaska, it is hardly fair to construe either industry as having the strongest link to the public’s right of access. Either way, with 100% use, you cannot escape the fact that changing the proportion of harvest between 2 types of commercial enterprises cannot happen without economic damage. This is clearly what is happening with a regulated commercial fishing industry and an unregulated charter fishing industry.
But we cannot deceive ourselves that the halibut controversy today is strictly about this. Some people are promoting individual access rights to the resource as a logical extension of public ownership of the resource. This distortion ignores the absolute right of public government to limit individual acts. It also masquerades an unregulated and unlimited commercial charter industry as indispensable to public ownership of the resource regardless of the consequences to others.
For several decades our highest courts have wrestled with state programs that limit some public access to seafood in seemingly stark contrast to constitutional language which reserves Alaska’s fish and game resources ‘to the people’. It is perhaps unfortunate that a small number of justices have been allowed to determine the meaning of this based on legal precedents for interpreting the literal words of the constitution as opposed to a serious review of the historical intent and mind set of its framers and citizens at that time. The living memory and historical record of our first constitutional convention clearly display the widely popular public sentiment of removing control of the salmon resource from the monopolizing hands of lower 48 corporations. The control was to be reinvested in the public, conceived primarily as those people who worked in the commercial fishing industry in maritime communities of the state. Further proof of that mind set occurred during the early 70’s when Alaskans fully supported a constitutional amendment which allowed programs that limited public access to seafood for the purpose of promoting economic stability. In spite of reserving fish resources ‘to the people’ in the constitution, earlier Alaskans recognized that coastal economies could not withstand unlimited numbers of transient fishermen coming here for the summer and competing for the resource.
The high mobility of the world’s population and the increasing attraction of sport fishing in the growing tourism sector, have put the halibut resource industries in the same vulnerable spot that salmon was 40 years ago. Because the overall harvest is clearly limited some action must be taken. There is no alternative for the charter fleet except to limit themselves in some fashion or reallocate the resource from the traditional commercial fleet.
Significant numbers of Alaskans are involved in this controversy and it is important that our state leaders understand the debate. Regardless of past court decisions, questions of federal authority, or strong philosophical arguments in the media, we cannot hope for peaceful progress or wise leadership from the state without acknowledging one fundamental economic reality: Very simply stated, when a seafood resource is utilized at 100% of its capacity, reallocation of harvest opportunity between commercial business groups cannot occur without financial loss. The reality of that financial jeopardy should impose a sense of fairness on us, which transcends simplistic debate over public access issues that remain unsolved even at the highest judicial levels.

At this point there is movement toward limiting the halibut charter industry and it is likely that the state will have a role in designing and implementing a manageable program. If we are to make headway on this with some clarity of purpose and understanding, we must lower the volume of those voices who say that any tourist arriving here has a higher right to access halibut than a coastal community resident who has been selling halibut to the public for decades. That mindset is proving to be a major stumbling block at the NPFMC in solving the halibut access problem and does a grave disservice to the good faith efforts of long time charter and commercial fishermen trying to work things out.
here are very straightforward ways to move the charter fleet into fully regulated status while remaining in harmony with the public and the traditional commercial halibut fishing industry. The state can aid in this effort by promoting the same vision for Alaska’s seafood resources that our constitutional framers saw 50 years ago. That vision is relatively simple: Corporate interests will not dominate access to and control of our seafood resources; and some types of public access are justifiably limited to protect the seafood economy of coastal Alaska.
Elements of a workable halibut charter plan

1. Individual quotas (ITQ) can be adopted that recognize and reward different levels of charter activity over time. This must be done in as simple of a fashion as possible which leads either to establishing a system where qualifying participants are ranked individually and awarded rights according to personal history, or a system of several different classes of historical participation where individuals within each class are awarded rights equally.

2. The ITQ program must not be forced into the same monitoring, accounting and compliance program that the commercial fleet has under IFQs. It is far too burdensome to accomplish, extremely expensive to implement, are far too spread out to provide accuracy. Regardless of the license program adopted, a simple way to provide visual monitoring, compliance, and accounting – is to provide each authorized charter boat with lip tags for halibut which are fastened to the jaw prior to docking and must be left on until removed at processing. The tags would be designed to make re-use impossible. Research and monitoring efforts would be greatly enhanced – as the tags would be clearly coded and numbered for each business. The tags could also be colored to indicate the category of license awarded as discussed in #1 above. There could be great variety in the configuration and uses. It would make ITQs transferable to other qualified operator by the simple sale of lip tags and answer many problems associated with inability to fish or needing more ITQ quota during a season. Conversion of commercial halibut IFQ to a specified number of lip tags would also be possible if the program was designed around harvesting halibut according to numbers of fish and average weight – instead of actual weights such as in the IFQ program.

3. If the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council adopts a program that brings the charter fleet into compliance with the existing guideline harvest levels (GHL) there will be no reallocation from the commercial fishing fleet and the subject of compensation will be moot. If the council either forces reallocation by raising the GHL or makes provision for future conversion of halibut from the commercial long line fleet to the charter sector – the question of fair compensation will be a central point of controversy and certainly the subject for litigation considering all the conventional loans outstanding in the fishing fleets for halibut IFQs. If the notion of fair compensation prevails as a result of reallocation, the state may have to decide what role to play in imposing or collecting fees to cover the costs of such a program. Regardless of the mechanism, it would be helpful for the state leadership to declare an interest now in helping to implement a financial accounting program if it helps secure an ending to the halibut charter controversy.

4. Many long time commercial halibut fishermen and charter boat operators would support a system that is designed somewhat as follows:

ITQs based on (4-6) levels of active participation during the qualifying years.
Fee program to compensate IFQ fleet for reallocation into new ITQ system
Lip tags for annual ITQs determined by license category and transferable
Accounting system based on numbers of fish with average weights – not pounds
A set GHL % of the MSY adjusted strictly through numbers of lip tags issued
Mechanism for converting IFQs to ITQs through a lip tag conversion program


mark said...

Hi, Mike. Glad to have you here. Be carefull of that line tho, buddy, and make sure to get our position before pushing your ideas. In general, if it came from your mouth, or your pen, it is a respected and experienced opinion and carries more weight than, say, another councilman or a hobby charterer. ( allow me to make a distinction at this point - a charter is someone who pays for the whole boat (or plane, or bus, etc.) for a specified time or the act of doing that. We use the term "charter" simply because the first boats here called themselves charters and there is a stigma associated with "open party" or, for short, "party" boats. I, for example, carry about 15% charters and the rest are open party. One would think that most in the industry are aware of the distinction so we accept the common usage in fora like this.)That said, I read the "shrill and undisciplined" line in its context four times before touching my keyboard!
I believe (I have not taken a survey) that a majority of the operaters experienced enough to have a valued opinion don't want the state involved. Look no further than our backyard to see a devestated Kenai River, Cook Inlet drift fishery, Halibut Cove herring, a troll fishery in South-Central, Kamishak herring, Kamishak scallops, Kachemak dungies, shrimp, prawns, tanners, and kings and know that, well, in your words (out of context); "...we cannot hope for peaceful progress or wise leadership from the state..."
Also, Mike, the tag program you detail is a gallant effort by (I´ve mentioned you before!) a well-meaning politician but the ramifications are such that I don´t think that you, living in this community, want to see it. Halibut carcasses are rancorous and disgusting things better fed to the crabs at sea than the flies and gulls at home. We are already culturing a diseased and rancorous atmosphere with what we do bring back - Don´t help us multiply the effect! An alternative would be to make the penalties so severe for cheating that few would dare. Also, we have a nice, clean, well presented product when we fillet at sea. Bringing fish home does everything from lengthening the crew´s day to increase water usage in the harbor to causing a poorer quality product to the consumer. Legitimate charters have never brought their fish home because they wanted to, but because they didn´t have a filleter or to advertise for the next day´s clients. A smaller portion are presently coming home than you realize. Thanks for hearing me out but there is an even bigger issue for me to address than even this one... see ya - Mark Millspaugh

mark said...

devastated, operators, realize. I don't have spell check, already!

mark said...

In the sixties, my father's company made a yearly trip to a bustling fishing community a little like Homer and I got to go along and developed my taste for sportfishing. I remember not finding enough parking at the pancake house at three-thirty in the morning! It was a long drive and everybody from northern California to Bellingham made it to go salmon fishing. It was like a mass migration from the metropolises of Seattle and Portland. The port I'm talking about is Ilwaco (and to a lesser extent Astoria, I believe, where the Irish hailed). In May of 1974 the Pearl C capsized on Peacock Spit outside of Ilwaco on the Columbia Bar and thirteen people (how ironic) died.
Dave Morris just forwarded to me an article from the Daily News about a charter boat in Homer going down just after the passengers got off. The point I'm making here is that Westport hardly existed until the Pearl C went down and people started believing that the Columbia was too rough to traverse. Portlanders started driving right past Ilwaco to drive another two hours to Westport! Ilwaco became Seldovia but without the cute. I know of a charter boat that ran from the Barrens to Point Adams in spray so heavy that RADAR was the only thing he saw for over an hour. Shouldn't have been there, should've slowed down or taken a different angle if he was.
We all do stupid things, now and again - One time my RADAR went down and I had not only not bothered to time courses at various RPMs and currents(and practice!) I didn't even have a watch and had to rely solely on LORAN, depth, and local clues (winds, water colors, rips, kelp, etc.) to get me home in a dense fog. I also once broke a fuel line and dumped all of my fuel in the bilge and didn´t have spare. That fuel line should have been supported better so that it didn´t vibrate itself to an early grave.
It's exciting to get out and get fishing and the lure of making that first coin in the spring is great. But, the consequenses of getting in too much of a hurry can be catastrophic. How many Fox boats have we lost and almost lost because somebody was (at the least) momentarily stupid. Why are there so many "vicious logs" lurking around Dangerous Cape and English Bay Reef that are so willing to send fine boats to their grave? Can we just slow down a little and double check those hose clamps, pumps, wiring? We are supposed to be the ones that know what we are doing. The Coast Guard guy just got off the farm. The Coast Guard Auxiliary guy is well meaning but could be clueless. You have to learn what you are doing and try to not kill people.If the guys with the most experience think the weather is a little iffy, don´t run to the middle of nowhere and throw you anchor into your wheels. If you don´t KNOW where the rock is, give it a wide birth. Remember the rules of the road? Try to remember the big stuff like who's got the right-of-way before you're in a spray-induced blackout and find you are in a close quarters situation.
When one of us kills a boat load of passengers we won't need to worry about who's halibut is who's - we are finished.

mark said...

One more thing. Another Fox boat almost sunk last year. It had a captain that was known to run all over the ocean to find fish for his people, yet he was fishing at Point Adams in flat calm weather. He had little experience but he sensed that something was wrong and stopped where other boats were. If that kid could feel extra water in his bilge, shouldn't we all be able to? A heightened sense of awareness isn´t issued with your license but should be. Put 100 gallons of water in various compartments and take your boat out for some turns. I guarantee you´ll feel it. Do it until you can feel which compartment it's in, then try it with 50 gallons. Then try it with passengers in a controlled situation. Get to know your f'ing boat before you put people on it. I won't go far into bilge alarms because they shouldn't even be necessary but where was Weldon's? (after this, his alarms will have alarms!)
Oh, and whoever is at Silver Fox now - If I were to borrow a pump to keep my boat from sinking, I damn sure would clean that thing up and return it... I have another but what are you - from another planet?

mark said...

Que paso? Are we getting anywhere lately?