Throw plan back: It’s not a keeper

As became clear at last Friday's informational meeting on the halibut catch sharing plan, charter captains really don’t like the proposal that could cut the daily bag limit for guided sport fishermen to one halibut a day.

For good reason. The proposal raises more questions than it answers.
Without clear answers to those questions, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce should either kill the proposal or send the issue of halibut allocation back to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for more work.

There’s no doubt that folks in the Halibut Capital of the World — that’s us — want to protect the resource that not only gives us our moniker, but fuels our livelihoods and our lifestyles.

It will take more, better information, however, before we're convinced this proposal does what it should do: protect halibut while harming people as little as possible.

To protect the halibut resource, all fishing sectors — including the trawl fleet with its 13-million pound bycatch — will have to make sacrifices. The challenge is to come up with a program that spreads the pain fairly and that does not destroy any industry in the process.

The catch sharing plan doesn’t do that. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries has done its best to answer questions about the plan, but it has been given a flawed plan. Here are some of the questions that deserve answers:

  • How will the plan affect the economy of a community that is heavily dependent on tourism, which is heavily dependent on a healthy halibut charter fleet?
  • If a one-fish rule is implemented, how will it affect the behavior of charter fishermen? Will they still come to Homer? Will they fish or not?
  • Why not see the results of the recently implemented limited access program, which cut about 300 charter boats across this state this year, before starting another program?
  • Statewide, with a bycatch of 13 million pounds and a sport catch of 10 million pounds (2006 numbers), why not do something about bycatch first?

Instead of using old data and data not specific to the region’s economy, let’s get some better numbers before implementing this or any plan. Nobody has studied the charter fishing fleet adequately to get basic information to determine guided sport fishing behavior. There’s not the kind of accurate, in-season data collection that’s available to the commercial fleet. So, let’s get that first.

There’s got to be a better way to protect halibut than potentially devastating the economy of an entire community. Fostering a sustainable fishery has to go hand-in-hand with fostering a sustainable community. And those most affected by any plan need to have a hand in helping to write it.

Comments on the draft rule will be taken until Sept. 6. Here’s ours: Throw this plan back; it’s definitely not a keeper.

And hats off to the Homer Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring Friday’s informational meeting.

— Homer News, Aug. 18

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