Federal panel to deliberate on crab fisheries

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) - Options for privatizing Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fisheries are expected to attract the most debate as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council begins its April meeting Wednesday.

The federal panel, moving toward final action on options in June, is considering an individual fishing quota program or cooperative program for the lucrative fisheries. Options include allocating the crab to harvesters only, allocating shares for harvesters and processors, or maintaining the status quo.

The crab fisheries, which currently operate under a license limitation program, contribute millions of dollars to the economies of numerous communities in Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

However, a change in the current management program may be needed to alleviate certain concerns, said Chris Oliver, the council's executive director. These include catching fish not targeted and the economic stability and safety of crab fishers.

Once the council takes final action on options in June, Congress may need to modify a moratorium on individual fishing quota programs before the options can be submitted to the Secretary of Commerce, Oliver said.

The council also must consider environmental impact considerations of the chosen option, in hope of submitting the whole package to the Secretary of Commerce by year's end.

Also during the weeklong April meeting, council members expect to take final action on a proposal to extend and improve the North Pacific groundfish observer program, which will otherwise expire on Dec. 31.

Proposed changes would allow the National Marine Fisheries Service to place its staff and other qualified persons aboard groundfish and halibut vessels, and at groundfish plants, to monitor harvests. Currently, private companies are the only ones that provide observers.

Also on the council's agenda are final action on changes in the halibut-sablefish individual fishing quota program, and some modifications in the halibut subsistence program.

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