A proposed regulation concerning the allocation of the annual halibut catch in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska needs to be re-examined after a "number of policy and technical issues" arose during a public comment phase, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contends.
NOAA recommended Wednesday the North Pacific Fishery Management Council reconsider the halibut catch sharing plan before it starts drafting a final rule on the proposal, according to a note released at the Council's meeting in Dutch Harbor.
"After taking a preliminary look at all the comments we received on the halibut catch sharing plan, we felt the comments raised a number of policy and technical issues that would need additional input from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council before we could go forward and develop a final rule," NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle said.
Through Sept. 21, NOAA had been gathering feedback on the catch sharing plan - a draft rule recommended by the NPFMC 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.
Speegle said the original timeline would have NPFMC officials looking through the more than 4,000 comments made on the plan and developing a final rule to be published in December.
"It's unclear if we will be able to do that at this point," Speegle said.
Speegle was hesitant to say where that action left next summer's halibut fishery.
"There's too many factors and I wouldn't want to speculate on how likely that would be," she said of the plan being implemented in time for next year's management.
Specifically, NOAA is urging the NPFMC to re-examine concerns about "management implications at lower levels of abundance," the "economic impacts of the CSP under all levels of potential combined catch levels," and the "methods for calculating the average weight for guided angler fish that may be leased from commercial IFQ operators and the specific means for tracking and reporting guided angler fish."
"Other technical issues were raised that may require additional input from the Council after further review," NOAA officials wrote. "Although some of these issues could be resolved by NOAA Fisheries, others raise important policy and implementation questions that are best addressed by the council. NOAA Fisheries will provide a briefing to the Council on specific topics of concern."
NOAA encouraged the NPFMC to address the issue at its December meeting, or during a special meeting.
"At a minimum, NOAA Fisheries encourages the Council to consider the existing guideline harvest level allocations and the suite of management measures developed under the proposed CSP if it chooses to provide guidance to the (International Pacific Halibut Commission)," officials wrote.
Brian Smith can be reached at email@example.com.