The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted 10-1 to recommend a halibut catch sharing plan at its meeting in Anchorage Oct. 5.
The motion recommends a combined catch limit for the commercial and charter sectors, with each receiving a portion of the allowed harvest, beginning in 2014.
The exact charter-commercial split will be different in areas 2C and 3A.
In 3A, which includes Cook Inlet and other Southcentral Alaska waters, the allocation was based on alternative four. Below a 10 million-pound combined catch limit, or CCL, the charter industry receives 18.9 percent. Between 10 and 10.8 million pounds, it receives a flat 1.89 million pounds. When the CCL is between 10.8 and 20 million pounds, the industry would receive 17.5 percent. Between 20 and 25 million pounds, the charter allocation would be 3.5 million pounds, and at times of high abundance — above a 25 million pound CCL — charter operators would have a 14 percent allocation.
In 2C, or Southeast, the council’s recommendation is for the charter industry to receive 18.3 percent when the CCL is below 5 million pounds, and 15.9 percent when it’s above 5.755 million pounds. When the CCL falls between those two numbers, the charter industry would receive a flat 915,000-pound allocation.
Had the change been in effect this year, the charter industry would have received a smaller allocation than its actual guideline harvest level, or GHL. The allocation in 2C would have been 720,000 pounds, less than the actual guideline harvest of 931,000 pounds. The 3A allocation would have been 2.869 million pounds, less than the 3.103 million pounds that charter management was based on.
The flat pound amounts between each step-up are meant to avoid jinks that
occurred in the prior draft, where some step-ups in abundance resulted in a decrease in pounds allocated.
In making the motion for action, council member Ed Dersham acknowledged that it was a compromise, and neither sector’s preferred alternative.
Council member Dan Hull agreed.
“Like Mr. Dersham, I too would have preferred to see different alternatives or choices in this action, but I believe that the votes aren’t there for that, and where we have landed with this motion is the best place that we can get to at this point,” Hull said.
Both commercial and charter representatives said the final action represented a loss for their industry.
Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken said the final action represented a loss for commercial vessels, but was better than the GHL status quo. The association was glad for stability, she said.
Southeast Alaska Guides Organization Vice-President Russell Thomas said the move was extremely disappointing.
Council member Sam Cotten, the only no vote, said he appreciated the work that went into the motion. That both the charter industry and commercial sector saw the plans as taking from their allocation, made it difficult to come up with a plan.
He cited the numbers the Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, holders cited as their losses, but also recognized where the charter industry was coming from seeing losses from a GHL perspective.
The council was clear in its discussion that the status quo, which would have left the GHL in place, was not an option.
Under the GHL program, the commercial sector received what halibut was left after subsistence, charter, and sport needs were calculated. After more than a decade of work, the council took final action on a catch sharing plan in 2008 that connected charter and commercial allocations. That CSP was not implemented.
Seward charter operator Steve Zernia said the status quo is a fair place to start, and should be seen as the current baseline. Any less fish than it granted was a reduction in allocation, he and others said.
Commercial fisherman Bill Burke told the council he fishes out of Homer, and has IFQ in both 3A and 3B. Over the years, as the value of his quota dropped, Burke has taken on loans to purchase more. Since 2010, he’s seen the value of his quota drop between 9 and 25 percent a year.
The exact management of the allocation is left up to discussion each year, but includes bag limits, slot limits, or other yet-to-be determined tools.
John Moline, a charter operator out of Seward, said that how the fishery is managed has a significant impact on whether or not clients opt to go fishing.
Dersham said the intention was to have a flexible management scheme that could be updated yearly. As management improves, Dersham said he thought the charter sector could be managed closer to its limit. In 2011, the charter sector only harvested about half of its GHL, due to management.
“I think clearly, as we develop a baseline of effects with different slot limits for example, that our precision can get much better and the buffer we need in actual projected numbers can become much smaller,” Dersham said.
Burke and Zernia weren’t alone during public testimony. Several charter operators from around the state testified about the challenges in their businesses.
John Baker, a charter operator out of Ninilchik, said loans aren’t unique to the commercial sector. Charter businesses also have business loans, and need fish to continue their operations, he said.
Other commercial fishermen talked about the drop in their quota — ranging from oldtimers with several decades of commercial fishing under their belts, to younger fishermen, like 18-year-old Stephen Peavey, of Craig.
“I have lost three-quarters of my quota for conservation issues and allocations to other user groups,” Peavey said. “…It is not economically viable for me to take another cut.”
The council’s action also recommended a number of other CSP details. It asked the Alaska Department of Fish and Game use logbooks as their primary data collection source, suggested eliminating skipper and crew catch, which was allowed in Area 3A but not 2C, and would make each sector responsible for its own wasteage.
The motion also included a Guided Angler Fish program to allow the commercial sector to lease quota to charter operators, but said they wanted to see it reviewed regularly.
Several charter operators said they wanted to see that changed in the future, as the program would be hard to make equitable between charter operators. A committee is working on a future program to allow a pooled approach to purchasing additional quota.
Molly Dischner is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.