Governor protests panel's halibut quota decision

Posted: Friday, April 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles wants the federal government to reject an advisory council's vote to assign private catch shares to approximately 1,100 halibut charter boats.

Knowles sent letters this week to Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, urging them to act against the plan.

''I think you have to have a compelling reason to change a public resource to private ownership,'' Knowles told the Anchorage Daily News.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council on April 14 approved the controversial individual quota program for Southeast and Southcentral halibut charter boats.

The panel, made up of commercial, sportfishing, government and academic interests from Alaska, Washington state and Oregon, voted 8-3 in favor. The council's votes strongly influence policy but are advisory only. The commerce secretary must give final approval.

Critics, including Knowles' political ally and council member Bob Penney, condemned the quotas as a lucrative ''giveaway'' of a public resource, one that could result in higher rates for charter anglers.

Most council members, however, were not persuaded and called the quota plan a good way to stabilize the growing charter industry and also settle a fish feud between the commercial and charter fleets.

Commercial fishing boats received individual quotas in the mid-1990s, but Knowles said there were strong reasons to end the free-for-all for that fleet, including deaths and low fish quality in the race for halibut.

No U.S. sport fishery has gone to individual quotas, which could be bought and sold, said Knowles, himself a former member of the fishery council.

The council recently approved an overall harvest limit for the charter fleet, and that is working well without ''privatizing'' the fish, Knowles said.

The governor also questioned whether adding charter boats to the existing commercial halibut quota system violates the current federal ban on new individual quota programs.

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