KENAI (AP) -- The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is considering a proposal to issue individual fishing quotas to halibut charter operators.
If approved, the charter IFQ program would not take effect before 2003, council staff member Jane Di Cosimo said.
Charter operators pitched the idea last year as an alternaltive to guideline harvest limits, which they said could set off a race for fish and close the season early.
The proposal will be put out for public comment before the council takes action at its April meeting in Anchorage.
Commercial fishers have long called for a cap on the halibut charter catch. At present, the total allowable commercial harvest is calculated after subtracting the total sport catch. Commercial fishermen fear a growing charter fleet could mean fewer fish left for them.
Commercial halibut fishermen already operate with IFQs, which can be bought and sold.
The council is considering integrating the commercial and charter IFQs, said Bob Ward, of the council's halibut charter IFQ committee.
''The intent is, eventually, to make shares fully transferable between the commercial fishery and charters,'' he told the Peninsula Clarion. ''But the industry is approaching that with caution, because we don't know what the charter IFQs will be worth. The commercial fishermen have six years experience and a price established.''
The council would consider three allocation formulas. It could grant the sport fleet 125 percent of its average catch from 1995 to 1999, or 14.1 percent of the total allowable halibut harvest; 100 percent of the 1995-1999 average, or 11.3 percent of the halibut harvest; or 100 percent of the average in 1998 to 1999, or 12.3 percent of the halibut harvest.
Opponents fear that IFQs could drive up charter prices, cutting some anglers out.
Doug Vincent-Lang, assistant director of the state Division of Sport Fish, said marginal charter operators might sell their IFQs if halibut stocks decline. Buyers would likely be in the most crowded fisheries, he said.
''I see shares migrating from Valdez and Seward to Cook Inlet,'' he said. ''Then, when (halibut stocks increase), it will take time for shares to migrate back. Anglers may not be able to go to Seward for a halibut charter. They may have to go somewhere else.''
Charter operators say IFQs would give sport guides more control of their business, because they can buy or sell their options to fish.
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