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 rules extended

Pandemic regulations extended another season allowing medical transfers of IFQ

The National Marine Fisheries Service has been working to make it easier to do a temporary transfer of halibut and sablefish quota to hired skippers, extending a rule that was made last year, but in a much more timely fashion.

Pre-COVID regulations only allowed for IFQ owners with B, C or D class quota to do three transfers every seven years due to medical reasons, and required a doctor to sign off, plus it had to be notarized. The rule started last year waives the need for a doctor’s note, and medical transfers made during the emergency regulation change do not count toward the three allowed transfers. The added rule does away with the need for a notary stamp.

Another change allows for anyone to do a medical transfer, where previous law would not allow a vessel owner who owned initial IFQ shares to do a medical transfer, because “you can just hire a skipper,” according to Doug Bowen at Alaska Boats and Permits. “They’ve waived that.”

That required the hired skipper to be at least a 20 percent owner of the boat, which no longer applies under the temporary rule.

The changes require adjustment to federal law, and last season the proposal came before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in mid-May, well into the season, and was not implemented until late June. This year the extension of the rule and the new rule waiving the notary requirement was implemented March 30.

The initial rule change was started after pleas from people who couldn’t come to the state from outside, or had been exposed to the coronavirus and couldn’t be aboard with others, among other reasons, and weren’t able to get their quota caught.

“They were trying to salvage a season, find a way to get their quota caught,” Bowen said.

But that rule change was only good for one year, so this year they had to do it all over again, he said.

He had praise for NMFS and the Council for their speedy response in getting the program restarted.

“Actually, I was kind of impressed,” Bowen said. “The Council took it up at the meeting in the first part of February that allowed us to do these transfers again, and that paperwork just came out (March 30).”

Bowen said that there has been “tremendous” interest in getting transfers, and that his phone has been ringing off the hook with requests.

In a statement, NMFS said, “This emergency rule is intended to provide flexibility to quota share holders in 2021, while preserving the Program’s long-standing objective of maintaining an owner-operated IFQ fishery in future years.”

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com

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