Inconsistent log books hinder halibut options

Posted: Sunday, March 05, 2006

Inconsistent logbook data for saltwater charter boats and missing information are frustrating renewed efforts to map out halibut charter boat fishery regulation options for southeast and southcentral Alaska.

A committee created to address the regulatory options gathered this week to grapple with the slippery issue, a regulatory one that has so far escaped long-term solutions.

“No quick fix,” said Ricky Gease, a member of the recently formed Charter Halibut Stakeholder Committee. “It’s a big project.”

In January, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council created the committee to refine two alternative proposals offered by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for regulating the charter halibut fishery.

In addressing the first alternative, however, the committee quickly found it could not competently complete its task with the data at hand.

The first alternative, as it is currently proposed, would regulate the charter boat fishery though a quota share program. Charter boat fishermen with a individual fishing quota would have the right to a percentage share in a combined commercial and charter boat halibut fishery.

One of the main hurdles to refining this alternative is determining how the quotas would be allocated among charter boat businesses.

Some of the qualification criteria that could be used to award quotas include the longevity and catch history of the charter boat businesses requesting them.

But logbook data tracking the history of halibut charter boat fishing has not been consistent, complicating efforts to formulate a consistent and fair method for allocating quotas.

“We were just kind of stumbling over what kind of data was available for which year,” said Kathy Hansen, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance and a member of the committee. “How halibut was treated in those logbooks was different from year to year.”

Logbooks required for saltwater charter boats in southeast and southcentral Alaska have inconsistently documented the number of halibut they have been catching, as opposed to other saltwater fish they may have been catching, said Jane DiCosimo, a NPFMC staff member.

Starting in 1998, the state required saltwater charter boats to specifically log halibut catches, but then dropped the requirement in 2001, she said.

The requirement has resumed for 2006 logbooks, but in the meantime the committee is struggling with how to acquire the long-term data that would be needed to allocate quotas.

“How do you identify who would be qualified?” Gease said. “There’s a data gap.”

Although this week’s meeting was only the first of a series of meetings the committee will hold, it also managed to introduce the second proposed alternative for regulating the halibut charter boat industry.

The fishery would continue to be micromanaged by the NPHF using traditional management tools under the second alternative.

Possible management tools recommended under the second alternative include annual angler limits, limits on days fished, reduced daily limits, a limited entry program for charter boats and local area management plans, also known as LAMPs.

Although the alternative was discussed only briefly, it was apparent the committee required more data before it could move forward with fine-tuning the proposal, Hansen said.

“We found out on both (alternatives) that the there was data that we needed that wasn’t in front of us,” she said.

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