In response to the opinion offered by Drew Scalzi on March 21:
I can't believe I am reading the words of an International Pacific Halibut Commission commissioner, or the words of the legislator elected by us to represent the Kenai Peninsula. Yes, Mr. Scalzi, you may just be a "privileged harvester," and it really irks you to consider an established halibut charter business being treated the same, doesn't it? To hold a privilege is for you only, no others; that is the very problem my industry has faced since 1993 when this perceived problem was brought to the council to be decided. The commercially dominated council has come a long way in trying to better understand the difference between what they are and what we are.
Your statement -- "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" -- pretty much says it all. How about me and my family's "commercial business" that services those who like to catch it themselves? Good luck, too? Why can't you see treating me like you treat yourself would be a good idea? We both make a "buck" on halibut. It's a public resource. Why should some of the public resource be OK for you to "own harvest privileges for" but not others?
I proposed the Individual Fishing Quota as a charter-industry offered alternative to a terrible plan that would eliminate the opportunity to conduct a professional public service by those that have dedicated themselves and invested the most in providing the safest public access to their resource.
Under the Guideline Harvest Limit, the entire industry will be managed by the collective behavior of the areawide fleet with no limit on new entry. It also does not provide more fish when the public demands more. The IFQ will allow an operator to pursue his own business each season based on his own behavior and will allow the public to gain more access through the investment made by the charter operator in more IFQs.Why is it OK for you to be able to do this but not me? We both offer access to this public resource -- why not on an equal basis?
The operator of a charter boat has a U. S. Coast Guard license that must be earned and maintained through very rigid experience and testing requirements along with personal invasion of privacy requirements, like drug testing and medical examinations, to assure the operator is capable of being trusted with public safety.
My industry has a perfect record when it comes to public safety -- no loss of life from any U. S. Coast Guard licensed operators in Alaska. Any falsification of any documents like our logbooks can result in a loss of that license. You don't lose your commercial license for false reporting, at worst you get to buy them off with a fine. I didn't have any problem being available for both overt or covert observations by any regulatory agency each day when I pulled into my same slip in the Homer harbor with my customers right there with their fish in plain view, and through it all the IPHC accepted the logbook results as the "amount harvested."
The charter-boat IFQ will regulate how many fish my sport fish-licensed customers can harvest within the bag limit set by your IPHC. I haven't ever thought of us being able to sell our catch for the following reasons: I can only catch two fish in any given day myself; if it is sport caught, the fish cannot be sold; the customer has the harvest right in a sport fish license; and the customer will probably only pay me if it is understood that the catch will be retained by the customer, just like the guided halibut sport fishery has always been conducted. There is no mention of any alternative that would allow the charter boat operator to retain the customers' catch or sell it to them.
The industry is advocating a prohibition on selling the charter IFQs to the commercial fishermen for the first three years, and we will be advocating for a council review prior to any lifting of this transfer prohibition for a few reasons:
1. We owe it to the guided recreational fishermen that their resource access won't be sold out to the commercial fishery;
2. We need time to get used to operating under an individual quota system;
3. We need to see what size the fleet will want to be; some consolidating and some selling out will surely occur;
4. We have no idea what the value of fishing an IFQ on charter boats will be. This must be resolved before any charter sector transfers can occur, if at all. Even if we wanted to be able to sell our quota to the commercial fishermen, we haven't changed the customer demand for charter services. If my business is sold out of the fishery, didn't I just create an opportunity for a new charter to come into Homer and take my place and my customers? The demand is what makes a charter a viable business, not how much resource I harvest.
As far as the "pressure to low-grade," this will not keep our customers coming back to us, will it? Anyone can see the problems with this idea. We are very competitive; our catches are the brag of our customers; to many, it's the challenge they came all this way for, a lot more exciting experience than the one they get from shopping at Safeway -- this is the difference between my fishery and yours.
The IPHC fishing regulations say nothing about catch and release fishing, which you say is illegal, but that's only as it pertains to commercial fishing, Drew. You should read your own regs. Your IPHC has indicated it sees no major problems with our inclusion in the IFQ program and our reporting is currently accepted as good enough for harvest accounting and biological management.
For your three-tier limitation plan, you are nuts to think I would want to invest in my boat and all the associated costs I incur to generate my customers just so someday when the halibut stocks decline to an arbitrary level that my investment would be good for nothing. You could never live with this kind of management, why should we?
Some of the newest charter businesses are capable of being the very best charters we have ever seen. Should their livelihood be jeopardized in such a fashion? Even with your plan the "A" boats could still catch more than the limit allocated to us. Who gets out then?
As I am the one that made this proposal, and I represent the industry at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, it would seem to me that this is a plan that is industry driven, and with much more industry support than opposition to this plan.
Mr. Scalzi, you are not representing us in a very informed way. Let me know if I can spend some time with you to enlighten you, so you can do a better job for us than you are doing now. My industry would want me to do this for you.
Capt. Robert Ward of Anchor Point is a 15-year charter operator in Homer. He sits on the advisory panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council representing halibut charter boats.
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