In the wake of last month’s decision by the International Pacific Halibut Commission to restrict guided sport-caught halibut catches in Alaska, controversy has raged.
Fishermen wondering how and why the IPHC reached its decision can learn about the process Saturday when IPHC Executive Director Bruce Leaman visits Homer. Leaman speaks from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. The meeting is open to the public.
The IPHC voted to limit the number of halibut taken by an angler on charter vessels to one a day from June 15-30 for Area 3A in Southcentral Alaska, and from June 15-July 31 for Area 2C in Southeast Alaska. The decision won’t be final until and if Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sign off on it.
Charter operators argued that the IPHC restriction would lead to cancellations of already-booked trips and hurt their businesses. Commercial halibut fishermen said the charter fleet has been exceeding its guideline harvest limit, and that it’s about time the IPHC took steps to manage the resource.
What’s been missing from a lot of the debate has been information about how the IPHC made its decision, said Don Lane, a Homer halibut commercial fisherman who has been fishing since 1983. Lane knew Leaman and wrote him to see if he would be interested in coming to Homer to talk about the issue.
“You know, he took me up on it,” Lane said.
Leaman said he expects the discussion to be animated.
“My presence here is to provide some information and hopefully get some understanding regarding the process,” he said.
Lane said he hopes the talk will help calm down some of the emotion over the issue.
“You get a lot of rhetoric that throws fuel on the fire, but doesn’t find a solution for the community,” he said.
Rex Murphy, a charter fisherman who owns Winter King Charters, agreed. Murphy attended the IPHC meetings and has been working with the Halibut Charter Stakeholders Group to come up with a solution.
“The rhetoric is up to a full roar,” he said. “There are more people paying attention to what’s going on now than there were before. ... Part of people paying attention is they have to get educated.”
One thing Leaman said he wants to explain is how the IPHC is restricted to managing North Pacific halibut stocks. Decisions on allocating halibut among user groups subsistence, sport and commercial fishermen are made by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The NPFMC had earlier set guideline harvest levels for guided sport-caught halibut. Using Alaska Department of Fish and Game and other information, the IPHC said the GHL for Area 3A had been exceeded by 9 percent in 2006. Fishermen who complain to the IPHC that it took away quota are talking to the wrong organization, Leaman said.
“That’s an argument you make before the council, not the commission,” he said.
The IPHC made its decision because the NPFMC said it could not come up with a plan to restrict the charter fleet until 2008, Leaman said.
“The commission views this very much as an interim measure pending action by the council,” he said.
Lane said Homer not only has a large charter fleet, but a large commercial fleet. Homer has 200 fishermen holding individual fishing quota permits that allow them to take up to 5 million pounds of halibut.
“You just have to realize how important it is to the community, and how we can protect it and not tear each other apart,” he said.
Although the issue has been controversial, Lane said he hoped people on all sides of the issue would be considerate of each other.
“I think if everyone is gracious, it’ll be a great meeting,” he said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
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