Marianne Clark fishes for halibut in the Gulf of Alaska on a charter from Seward. A proposal before the international Pacific Halibut Commission could limit sport fishermen to one fish per day in a large area of the state's waters.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
A proposal now before the International Pacific Halibut Commission could halve the current catch limit for sport-caught halibut in Cook Inlet, Shelikof Strait and across the Gulf of Alaska as far south of Juneau.
That could devastate the Southcentral and Southeast Alaska charter industry, and by extension, the entirety of the area’s economically vital tourism industry, say opponents who are urging the commission to reject the proposed reduction in the bag limit.
Supporters, mostly from the commercial halibut fleet, argue the limit reduction is necessary because the charter fleet is growing uncontrollably, and commercial fishers, whose harvests are quota-regulated, suffer when the charter fleet exceeds its own Guideline Harvest Limits.
Commercial fishers argue the excess taken by the charter fleet amounts to a reallocation of halibut from the commercial sector, reducing not only their harvest, but also the value of their quota shares in the commercial halibut individual fishing quota (IFQ) program.
Currently, halibut charters, a cornerstone of much of the regional tourism industry, have a two-fish daily bag limit, meaning each paying customer aboard a charter is entitled to two fish per day. The commission, meeting in Victoria, B.C., is expected to rule today on a proposal that would cut that bag limit to one fish per day.
The area affected by the proposal includes management areas 3A, which stretches from Kayak Island south of the Copper River Delta to Kodiak Island and across Shelikof Strait, and 2C, which covers the area south of Kayak Island to roughly Ketchikan.
Jev Shelton, a longtime Juneau-area commercial fisher, submitted the proposed limit reduction. He is affiliated with the Halibut Coalition, which represents several regional harvester organizations, among them the Upper Cook Inlet Driftnetters Association, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the North Pacific Fisheries Association.
According to paperwork Shelton submitted, Alaska Department of Fish and Game final 2005 and preliminary 2006 guided sport harvest data “indicate significantly in-creased catches over earlier estimates, resulting in the likelihood that” constant exploitation yields, or CEYs, in Area 2C and 3A would be exceeded.
Fish and Game data shows that in Area 3A, the 2005 sport catch was nearly 3.9 million pounds, about 1 percent, over the Guideline Harvest Level (GHL) of 3.65 million pounds. The 2006 preliminary estimates indicate nearly 3.95 million pounds were caught, about 9 percent over the GHL. In 2C, the 2005 catch was 36 percent over GHL, while the 2006 estimates were 47 percent above.
To keep the guided sport harvest within GHLs in future years, Shelton proposed cutting the 2C take for charter clients to one fish per day over the entire season, and the 3A client take to one fish per day for the month of August.
Shelton said benefits of implementing the one-fish rule would include reducing localized depletion of the resource, a more accurate evaluation of the charter catch, and a cut in the on-going reallocation from the commercial to the charter fleet.
That’s not how members of the charter industry see it, however. To them, the proposed rule cutting the daily per-client take to one fish amounts to killing their businesses.
Donna Bondioli, with Captain B’s Alaskan C’s Adventures out of Homer and with the Alaska Charter Association, said an immediate effect would be that many of their customers who have already booked summer charters would ask for their money back.
“They would choose not to come if they could only catch one fish,” Bondioli said.
Captain B’s takes out six passengers a day and normally about 620 a season. They are typically full every day in August (about 186 people) when the proposed one-fish per day would be imposed under the Halibut Coalition’s proposal.
The coalition’s idea could be supplanted by new IPHC staff recommendations that came out early this month. Those would impose a one-fish limit for Area 3A in the month of June, and a one-fish limit for June and July in Area 2C.
“I have people booked on all but five days in June,” Bondioli said.
“Economically, the cut to a one-fish limit would be very devastating, not only to our charter, but all the auxiliary businesses that also serve those people who come to Homer,” she added.
Lining up squarely behind the charter industry are members of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. In a letter to the halibut commission, KPTMC President Paul Carter urged commission members to reject the proposed limit reduction. The KPTMC has 403 member businesses.
“The proposed plan is not very well thought out and if passed will have dire consequences not only for the Alaskan families that rely directly on the charter business to raise and support their families, but also the Alaska hotel operators, restaurant and bar operators, retailers, tackle shops, boat dealers, outboard motor dealers, recreational businesses, grocery stores, gas stations, and those are just to name a few,” he said. “It will also directly affect the budgets of those communities which rely on sales tax to operate their municipalities.”
Carter pointed out that the rule would have a dramatic impact on tourism in Alaska, and especially on communities like Homer, Ninilchik, Kenai, Soldotna, Nikiski, Clam Gulch, Anchor Point, Seldovia, Port Graham and Seward, which depend on the economic boost from the charter industry.
“If your policy is adopted, we will see a drop off of visitation in those small Alaska communities,” Carter said. “... If the one-bag limit is passed, it will in all likelihood take years to recover from the economic disaster caused by it.”
Bondioli noted there is an ongoing debate concerning the IPHC’s “changed methodology” employed this year. She also lamented that the commission is considering raising the allowable catch for the commercial fleet in 2007, while slicing into the sport fleet’s bread and butter.
“The demand for halibut will be there,” Bondioli said. “It’s a shame to limit access to a public resource.”
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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