A proposed change in how the local halibut fishery is managed and allocated between industries will have deep impacts across the Peninsula if it is implemented as it currently stands, contends Shanon Hamrick, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council.
That plan — called the halibut catch sharing plan — would also have more of an impact to the Central Peninsula’s economy and way of life than most residents realize, Hamrick said.
That’s why Hamrick said her organization has taken a stance opposing the catch sharing plan as it currently stands, and will specifically request more consideration of the economic impacts of the plan.
“Going down to a one-fish limit will reduce the viability of the charter fleet because most people who take charters for halibut are going out for a meat fishery,” she said. “By reducing the limit to one fish and only possibly one fish under 32 inches, it is more economical for a consumer to go to the grocery store to purchase their halibut rather than taking a trip with a charter boat.”
The KPTMC Board of Directors — which includes representatives from the Homer, Seward, Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce — unanimously voted Sept. 2 to write a letter commenting on the plan. The letter is currently being drafted, Hamrick said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is gathering feedback on the catch sharing plan — a draft rule recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to establish a clear stock allocation between the commercial and charter sectors fishing Alaska’s Southcentral and Southeast areas.
Currently those two interests — commercial and charter — are managed separately.
But under the new catch sharing plan, the total halibut catch would be split between the two sides after all non-commercial and non-charter uses — mostly unguided sport harvest and subsistence — are subtracted.
Depending on how many millions of pounds are left, the charter industry will land in one of four tiers giving them a percentage of the catch, varying between 10.5 percent and 18.9 percent.
The tier system also sets a bag limit of either two fish of any size, two fish with one less than 32 inches long, or one fish.
The halibut catch share program would also allow transfers of commercial halibut Individual Fishing Quota to charter halibut permit holders for harvest by anglers with certain restrictions, if approved.
The plan’s public comment period was extended through Sept. 21.
KPTMC’s main point in its letter will be to advocate for economic consideration of the plan’s impact to small, charter industry-dependent communities like Ninilchik and Anchor Point.
“They are not a multi-species fishery and this could devastate those communities,” she said. “This isn’t going to just affect the charter fleet but also any restaurants, accommodations that benefit from the people who come to take advantage of that fishery.”
She added that comments stating those communities will be “wiped out” aren’t “over reaching.”
She noted, however, there may be some businesses diversified enough to survive.
“If you look at the Southeast and what has happened down there, people are struggling,” she said, referring to the area where charter fishermen currently are limited to one halibut per day no longer than 37 inches. “We just reduced the size of the fleet by 30 percent and we haven’t even had a chance to see what kind of an impact that is going to have on the fishery.”
The plan’s effects on the Central Peninsula would likely amount to trouble for many local outfitters who send tourist fishermen south for halibut to round out their vacation.
“You would be amazed at how many people, how many guides act almost as booking agents and they are helping people plan trips,” she said. “Usually they are coming here to fish on three tiers — king fishing, red fishing and halibut fishing.
“To take away one of those would heavily impact not only a person’s decision to visit the Kenai Peninsula, which falls within our realm of being able to market the Kenai, but also the overall experience that someone can have.”
Hamrick said she hopes her organization’s letter will spur Alaska’s federal legislators to intervene.
“There is room for all of these industries, we are just wanting to look at economic data for this one particular instance … and we just want to see what the facts are regarding this,” she said. “The overall feeling is that this has not been properly vetted.”