ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Four leading state legislators are opposing a plan to establish individual fishing quotas for halibut charter boat operators.
The lawmakers say they worry that the quotas, which vest charter operators with essentially private shares of the overall catch, could lead to higher rates for charter clients and less access to ''common property'' halibut.
Lawmakers signing the letter to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which will debate the issue next month, include Senate President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak; Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage; and Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.
''We feel this decision is being made with little opportunity for public input,'' the letter says.
But many charter operators, as well as commercial fishermen who already operate with individual quotas, say a new system is needed to end a seven-year feud between the commercial and charter fleets.
Commercial fishermen, who catch most of the halibut in Alaska, say an unchecked charter fleet could chew too deeply into the available halibut.
The federal council already has moved to cap the overall charter catch. Proponents say individual quotas could give charter operators a free-market way to grow by allowing boat operators to simply purchase more quota if needed to keep their passengers fishing.
''Seven years is plenty long to figure out what to do. I think the ultimate thing for both sides is stability -- knowing what the rules are going to be so you can plan your business around it,'' said Tom Gemmell of United Fishermen of Alaska, a commercial fishing trade group and supporter of individual quotas for charters.
Critics say the quota plan represents a new and disturbing shift in how recreational fisheries are regulated.
The lawmakers criticize it on other counts:
Prospective new charter boat operators might target other heavily fished species such as salmon, rockfish, cod and sharks if individual quotas prevent them from entering the halibut charter business.
Some smaller coastal communities could lose out on charter business if quotas, which could be bought and sold, are consolidated into larger communities.
Tourism could be hurt.
Instead of individual quotas, the letter urges the council to support a series of April public meetings by the Alaska Board of Fisheries on local halibut planning as is done in Sitka. There, all commercial, recreational and subsistence fishermen got together to share the local halibut stocks, especially those closest to port where overfishing occurred.
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