NOAA receives thousands of comments on catch sharing plan

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration–Fisheries officials estimated thousands of comments were received on the proposed halibut Catch Sharing Plan. The comment period closed Aug. 26. Officials are reviewing comments and haven’t determined a final number.

The CSP regulations would replace the current charter guideline harvest level with a percentage allocation for each area of the combined catch limit as determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The catch would be split between the commercial and charter fisheries.

Guided sport anglers in Area 3A, including Homer and Cook Inlet, would receive from 14 to 18.9 percent of the catch limit depending on abundance.

Some opponents said the CSP would mean reducing the daily halibut bag limit from two fish to one fish. Many of the comments received opposed a one-fish bag limit in area 3A, said Julie Speegle, NOAA Fisheries public affairs officer.

A 2011 version included a matrix setting rules like a one-fish bag limit under different ranges of abundance, but the latest version eliminates that matrix.

NOAA-Fisheries is reviewing the rule and can make minor, technical modifications. No substantive changes can be made without going back to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for approval, Speegle said. To take effect in 2014, it would have to be approved by late November in time for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in December to make its recommendations on bag limits and other conservation measures to the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Under the proposed CSP, the council uses IPHC preliminary stock assessments and charter guide logbook information to make its recommendations. That information will come out in October. If approved, the CSP would require using logbook data. Previously allocations were based on fishermen surveys, a less-accurate accounting.

“This has been many years in the making trying to come up with a good, final rule,” said Julie Speegle, a NOAA Fisheries public affairs officer. “It’s definitely been an open public process incorporating a lot of public input.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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