The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is moving toward a decision that will effectively incorporate the halibut sport charter industry into a "fishery" limited by individual quotas. This action was prompted by a need to limit growth of this rapidly expanding industry.
As a holder of commercial IFQ shares, I consider myself to be a "privileged harvester." That is, a person with a right to catch and sell a finite amount of the resource based on past performance and/or purchase of transferable quota shares. I am, however, not the owner of the resource; this distinction belongs to the people of the United States who also own the sport and subsistence halibut in the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and should have reasonable access to this portion as well.
The commercial IFQ system provides the best method of harvest by spreading it out over the longest period possible and is in the best interest of the owners. Some Americans choose to purchase their fish in a store, while others opt to take a chance on catching it themselves. For those who like to purchase fish in the stores, my family and I thank you. For those who like to catch it themselves, good luck.
The action by the NPFMC to limit harvest by the charter industry was brought about due to complaints received both from Southeast Alaska related to an increasing number of charter fish being caught by customers of the expanding cruise ship industry and from local sport fishermen regarding "local stock depletion."
The NPFMC worked on putting in place a "guideline harvest limit" or GHL. The GHL roughly represented the historical sport charter catch plus a percent for estimated biomass growth. In response, ideas began to circulate through the industry and a management scheme developed.
State documented fish tickets made a very solid and legally defensible validation process for the commercial halibut IFQ system. However, the proposed IFQ plan for the sport charter fishery will be based entirely on self-reported "log books." That is, the individual charter skipper will submit a document that he/she filled out and swore to. Hmmmm?
If IFQs are transferred between the sport and commercial sectors, several things can happen -- and all of them are bad. Whether the IFQ is used by the charter captain to catch and sell his quota or to sell the quota outright to a commercial harvester, neither is in the best interest of the charter industry.
Any shift of quota from the sport to commercial sector will mean a loss of opportunity to individuals wishing to pay for a charter to catch fish. Also, if a charter captain has a quota, will there be pressure to release the larger fish to make his quota go further -- that is -- to "low grade" his catch? Doing so is currently illegal under the rules of the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
Currently in the commercial fishery, fish tickets are still issued, pounds are calculated and validated, and a paper trail tracks the fish through retail sales to ensure the integrity of harvesting and biological management. However, an accurate monitoring of a sport fishery would be virtually impossible to achieve.
The Homer Harbor alone may have 100 charter vessels with catches hitting the docks in one afternoon -- Deep Creek and Ninilchik maybe 25 to 30. How and by whom will this monitoring effort be validated and enforced?
Again, we must go back to the "owners" of the resource. What is in their best interest? A limitation on guided sport fishing is a good idea when necessary. The methodology is in debate. The reasons for limitation should be to protect the resource, to solidify allocation and to sustain the economic viability of an existing industry.
The solution could be a three-tiered license limitation plan. An "A" license could be issued for early entrants who fished prior to 1995 and are still fishing. Then a "B" license would be issued for those who started after 1995, and a "C" license for all new entrants.
Not eliminating anyone from future participation is prudent. However, "C" applicants would be notified upon application that in the event of a biological need their participation in the fishery would be closed first. The "B" licensees would be next in line for closure if further restrictions are needed, but they would have some stability of the status quo. Of course the "A" licensees would be the last to receive any cutbacks because of their longevity in the industry.
In summary, it's the industry itself that will be most affected by how the charter business is regulated, and I hope to be able to support a plan that is industry driven. However, everyone needs to be at the table for this decision because the resource does belong to us all.
Rep. Drew Scalzi of Homer is a first-time Republican representative for House District 7.
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