JUNEAU (AP) Alaska's new federal halibut subsistence fishing program has begun.
The program opened Thursday with the ceremonial awarding of the first registration certificate to Harold Martin, former chairman of a Native group that worked to implement the program.
Before Thursday, halibut could be harvested only under sport and commercial fishing regulations. No method was set up to keep track of how many halibut were being used for subsistence.
The new regulations are an attempt to codify what many Alaskans were doing already fishing halibut for personal use and in some cases exceeding the personal-use catch limit of two per day.
Under the new program, subsistence halibut fishing is open to members of eligible Alaska Native tribes and residents of eligible rural communities. Participants are allowed to catch 20 fish per day, except for people in areas in the northern Bering Sea, where there is no daily limit.
The program has received about 500 applications, according to Sheela McLean, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In accepting his subsistence certificate from NOAA Fisheries Alaska administrator Jim Balsinger, Martin, 69, noted the push for a regulated subsistence program began about 20 years ago.
''This has been a long struggle,'' he told the audience of several dozen Native leaders and federal workers.
The second certificate went to Matthew Kookesh, who chairs the Alaska Native Halibut Subsistence Working Group and the Southeast Alaska Intertribal Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Kookesh exhorted eligible communities to fish their subsistence limits, and not to take unfair advantage of a provision in the regulations that allows participants to receive up to $400 per year in noncommercial exchange for the customary sharing of their fish.
''I don't want to see people putting signs up saying 'Halibut for Sale.' That's not what this is about,'' he said. ''The $400 limit is just so we're legal.''
The new regulations recognize 117 communities and 120 tribal groups as eligible for subsistence halibut fishing.
Certificates issued for a member of a rural community will last two years, and those for members of tribes will last four years. The free certificates are immediately renewable. Users will be permitted to catch 20 fish per day, year-round, using no more than 30 hooks per day.
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