Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Seawatch: IFQ permits go by mail only on request

Pandemic work conditions prevented mass mailings of IFQ permits

For fishermen waiting to receive their halibut and sablefish Individual Fishing Quoata permits in the mail as usual, the National Marine Fisheries Service is no longer sending them out. Fishermen have to apply online to get their permits or specifically request they be sent by mail or email.

The fishery opens at noon on Saturday, March 6, leaving fishermen without former knowledge of the change little time to get their permits. The decision was announced on Feb. 24.

It is still possible to have permits mailed to a valid mailing address upon request, or have them sent via email.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries spokeswoman Suja Hall said that the decision was a natural outcome of NOAA abiding by COVID-19 restrictions that had most staff working from home, so there have been a minimal number of people in the office.

“You can imagine 10 people sitting together stuffing envelopes, and we just can’t do that right now,” Hall said.

She said it kind of ended up being the optimal method, because they’ve been busy looking at all the requests that industry has been sending in because of emergency rule makings, such as considering making halibut a year-round fishery.

“While we were doing analysis on that, and trying to figure out how we were going to get the annual IFQ process running with the early fishery opening, and last year’s emergency rules, and dozens of people with questions about their adjustment balances, it just kind of evolved,” Hall said.

She added that they haven’t been mailing out permits since about last April, and that all the permit brokers have been aware of the change, but that mostly applies to people who are buying or transferring IFQs, not the larger group of IFQ holders, especially those without internet access.

“Those folks are difficult to reach,” Hall said. “Not all of them have emails, and so that’s always a challenge in trying to make communication with them, and make sure that they’re aware, and our goal is to try to improve on posting on our website to help inform the public.

“It’s very challenging trying to figure out how to get information out to a huge group of people” that are widely dispersed and not always familiar with modern technology,” she said.

She added that she hopes to maybe someday streamline the process where people are able to get information via text message, although that still does not reach everyone.

Individuals can access their IFQ information through the eFISH program on the NOAA Fisheries website at www.fisheries.noaa.gov/region/alaska. NOAA Fisheries Alaska can be reached by phone at 907)-586-7221.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com

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