ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The North Pacific Fishery Management Council on Saturday approved allocating millions of pounds of halibut in quota shares to the charter boat industry.
Many charter operators, as well as commercial fishermen who already operate with individual quotas, said the 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.
Bob Ward, a charter boat operator from Homer, who has been actively involved for nine years in helping the federal council resolve the issue, said quota shares will give charter operators confidence to know they can provide enough fish for the clients they book.
''This will give us a chance to book clients and know how many we can book,'' said Bob Ward.
The vote was 8-3.
''I think we're giving birth to an alien,'' said Bob Penney, a council member and avid sport fisherman. ''This is one of the poorest examples of public policy I've ever seen.''
Penney said the system will increase the cost of halibut charters, driving sport fishermen to instead rent boats to catch the flatfish. He said that will put lives in danger by putting unqualified seamen on the water.
Opponents also said they oppose privatizing a public resource.
The council's action affects some 1,150 charter operators in Alaska. Quota shares are to be assigned by 2003, which charter operators will be able to utilize in the 2004 season, Ward said.
The actual allocation will be a portion of the total approved by the International Pacific Halibut Commission for the commercial and charter interests combined. Charter operators will get 13.05 percent of their area total in Southeast Alaska. Charter operators in Southcentral Alaska will get 14.11 percent of that area's quota share, Ward said.
Initial quota share will be based on a formula equal to 125 percent of the 1995-99 charter boat harvest, to allow some growth in that industry.
The vote came on the heels of four days of testimony.
''It's too late for a time out,'' said commission member Linda Behnken, who represents Southeast longline fishermen, and who opposed a moratorium sought by state officials. ''We have a serious overcapitalization problem.''
Behnken also urged the council to consider including charter operators in the halibut IFQ fee collection and loan programs now in place for the commercial fleet.
Opponents of the halibut charter IFQs protested what they said was a lack of sufficient public testimony.
Council member Robin Samuelsen of Dillingham strongly disagreed.
''We've had 1,800 people either write to us or testify before us,'' he said.
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