After two motions - one failed, one passed - the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center's board of directors is asking its general membership to make its wishes known on a letter opposing a halibut catch sharing plan being considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The plan is currently in the midst of a 45-day comment period which began July 21 and ends Sept. 6.
A meeting of the general membership has been called for 7 p.m. Sunday at Land's End Resort.
At an emergency board meeting called by board president Holly VanPelt and held Wednesday, board member Pat Melone made a motion the board submit an official comment to the National Marine Fisheries Service on the plan. As outlined by Melone, the letter would request:
- An extension of the comment period;
- An economic impact analysis of the plan;
- A continuation of the existing guideline harvest limit, which is 3.6 million pounds for guided sport fishermen in Area 3A, the central Gulf of Alaska, including Cook Inlet and Homer.
Prior to the vote, charter operators and other business owners at the meeting spoke about the plan's possible negative impacts. As written, it would give the guided halibut charter fleet a specified percentage of the allowable catch set annually by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Depending on the amount, charter operators could face a one-fish-per-day limit; two fish with one less than 32-inches long; or, as is currently the case, two fish of any size.
A request for the board to comment on the plan also was addressed at an Aug. 18 meeting of the board. It failed to get the necessary 75 percent support needed. As a result, charter operators and visitor-industry related business owners have begun following through on a threat to withdraw their chamber memberships. Monte Davis, the chamber's executive director, estimated 20 expressed their desire to withdraw or not renew their memberships, whole another 80 committed to follow suit if the chamber didn't reverse its position.
"As this has been happening, our new membership packets were going out in the mail. We did have a few who literally walked back in with it," said Davis.
Kevin Fraley, owner of Print Works, encouraged the board to vote in favor of a letter as outlined by Melone.
"The board has an obligation to support the membership," Fraley said. "That's your responsibility. Look at the membership roll. See who's on it."
According to Davis, approximately 65-70 percent of the chamber's members are directly in the visitor industry; 40 percent of its budget is based on membership; and 35 percent of the budget is dependent on gaming net proceeds, which include the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby and the winter king salmon tournament.
"Many guests called as soon as this happened in Southeast (Alaska)," said Michael Warburton of Ocean Shores Motel, referring to concern raised by guests that Homer would be subject to a one-halibut-per-day-per person limit.
Clare Karwowski of Spruce Acre Cabins said she had received similar calls.
"So I know there would be an economic impact to this town," said Karwowski. "I wish you would support the majority of members' views."
Melone told the 10 other board members present or participating telephonically - board members Don Lane and Maggie McCormick was absent from Wednesday's meeting - that a vote against submitting a comment was "a vote in favor of the catch sharing plan," while a vote in favor of commenting did not necessarily support the plan.
Board member Jim Lavrakas characterized the topic as "the most important issue we'll deal with as a community" for years to come.
"I think Pat's motion is clearly stated," said Lavrakas.
"The ultimate issue is that we are a membership organization," said board member Janna Davis. "A lot of what we do is a result of the halibut derby and the winter king derby. We have to support that."
Summarizing the impact if 100 members withdrew from the chamber, Melone said, "That's one-third of the budget. (It'll be) lights out, doors locked and employees on the street if we don't pass this motion."
In a roll call vote of the 11 participating board members, the motion failed to get the 75 percent vote needed. Voting no were Kate Mitchell, Josh Tobin and Gary Squires.
Another vote was taken to submit a comment narrowing the scope to request a 60-day extension of the comment period and an economic impact analysis of the plan. That received unanimous approval by the 11 board members.
"I don't believe the chamber needs to get involved in fishing politics, per se, but helping charter fishermen have more time to help themselves seemed reasonable," said Tobin of his changed vote.
Mitchell said asking NMFS to extend the comment period "seemed like a reasonable compromise. And the economic study probably should have been done It's not a bad thing to look at the economics for all the small coastal communities."