Charter vessels limited to one fish per customer
Robert Monteith - June 11, 2009.
June 5 saw a new rule take effect that will limit bag limits for halibut charter customers to one fish in Southeast Alaska. The move was finalized following a federal court decision not to grant an emergency injunction against the law. Charter boat owners won a similar appeal last year when the new quota was first adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
NMFS adopted the rule in order to combat the habitual overharvest of the charter fleet’s guideline harvest level. The Halibut Coalition reports a 58% decrease in harvestable biomass over the last 12 years in Area 2C, the management area that incorporates the waters surrounding Petersburg. That has led to significant cuts to the commercial fleet’s allocation in recent years.
Similar cuts to the charter fleet have been called for by commercial organizations. Julianne Curry of the Petersburg Vessel Owner’s Association (PVOA) said the organization supported the one fish bag limit.
“We here at the Vessel Owners are very happy that the judge did not issue a preliminary injunction. It’s not just important to us as commercial fishermen, but it’s also important to the resource as a whole. One of the main concerns that the IPHC, many fishermen, and subsistence users have is a chronic overharvest by one sector,“ she said.
For her, allowing the rule to go into effect was a step in the right direction. She said that the fight wasn’t over, however, as regional charter groups look to appeal the decision in federal court. That hearing could happen in early July, according to Curry.
Eric Comstock is serving as counsel for the Charter Halibut Task Force (CHTF). He disagreed that commercial shares were going down due to the popularity of sport fishing. Instead, he pointed to the formulas used by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) as the reason for the decline. A new way of calculating harvestable biomass in a region was unkind to Area 2C, showing that younger fish sometimes moved north to mature.
He says he’ll argue the statute itself to prove that the charter fleet deserves a larger share of fish.
“It comes down to what the statute says, that the allocation must be fair and equitable to all fishermen. We don’t see how a system that says we’re going to continue to try and give the commercial sector 87% of the fish is fair,” he said.
Meanwhile concerns over the financial ramifications of a lower bag limit continue to haunt charter operators. A State of Alaska study found that charter boats brought in $274 million to the Southeast Alaska economy in 2007, which supported a little over 3,000 jobs in the region.
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