Council to hear halibut proposals

Posted: Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Alaska Board of Fisheries Chair Dan Coffey is expected to recommend tighter limits for federal subsistence halibut fishers in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound to federal managers in Kodiak today.

Last October, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which writes fishery rules for federally managed waters off Alaska, recommended creating subsistence halibut fisheries for residents of Alaska's rural coastal areas, about 88,000 people, and for urban residents of 118 federally recognized Alaska tribes that traditionally have fished for halibut.

The council largely followed the state's designations of rural and nonrural areas. On the peninsula, the state recognizes only Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek as rural and eligible for subsistence. Tribes living in state-designated urban areas include the Kenaitze, Salamatof and Ninilchik organizations.

The council recommended daily limits for most areas of up to 20 halibut per day and allows use of hand-line, longline, rod-and-reel, spear, jigging and hand-troll gear. It set a limit of 30 hooks per fisher. Its recommendations still require approval from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce before they can take effect.

Meanwhile, the council has asked the state Board of Fisheries to recommend whether different rules should apply in some areas. In addition, under a 1998 joint protocol, the state board is to work with the council to develop local area fishery management plans. The council's main purview would be halibut, which are federally managed even in state waters.

In April, the state board held public meetings on halibut subsistence and Local Area Management Plans (LAMPs) in Homer, Kodiak, Cordova and Sitka. During a May 8 and 9 work session, it drafted recommendations, which Coffey is to present to the council during its meeting today in Kodiak.

For Kodiak, the state board recommends limiting subsistence fishers to five hooks per person, with a maximum of three people and 15 hooks per boat. It recommends limits of 20 halibut per person per day and 20 per person per year.

For Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, the board recommends limiting subsistence fishers to five hooks per person, with a maximum of three people and 15 hooks per boat. It recommends a limit of 20 halibut per person per day, with no annual limit.

Board member Ed Dersham of Anchor Point said the hook limits match state groundfish subsistence rules.

"The five hooks is based on conservation concerns for rockfish and lingcod," he said. "In the areas where halibut subsistence takes place, like Port Graham and Nanwalek, there tend to be quite a few rockfish."

The federal council also asked the board for advice on what areas of Cook Inlet should be open to subsistence halibut fishing. Coffey said the board recommends restricting the federal fishery to an area south of the state subsistence fisheries around Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek.

"Everything to the north would be closed," he said. "That keeps the traditional subsistence areas open, including Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek, but it doesn't expand subsistence into areas that have not traditionally been fished for subsistence halibut."

Dersham said subsistence halibut fishing likely has occurred north of the present state fisheries, but probably not by residents of the villages the council has defined as rural.

"The council didn't include areas absorbed by urban areas on its list of eligible villages," he said.

"I think they'll give our recommendations due consideration. I hope they'll follow them, but they're not bound by any of them. It's their call."

Rob Bentz, assistant director of the Alaska Division of Sport Fish, said the federal council can make no formal regulatory decisions this week on the board's recommendations.

"They'd have to undergo the same formal analysis process that the original halibut subsistence proposals went through," he said. "I'm guessing they'll receive the report and have some discussion.

"I imagine they'll accept some part of these recommendations and direct the staff to do an analysis of the impact of making changes from what originally was adopted in October."

He said the board heard diverse opinions about LAMPs during its Homer public meeting. Ninilchik and Deep Creek speakers seemed interested in a Cook Inlet LAMP, he said, but Homer speakers said they did not want one yet.

There was considerable talk about local depletion of halibut stocks, he said. But while some sport fishers accuse the charter fleet of depleting halibut near shore, not everyone agrees.

Bentz said one state biologist has observed that fishers start talking about near-shore depletion about the same time halibut begin their annual migration to deep water.

"They may not be depleted. They may just be moving into deeper water where they are no longer available to sport fishermen, whether they are charter or unguided," Bentz said.

In Cordova, he said, Prince William Sound residents expressed interest in a LAMP, but seemed not to know how to proceed.

The board makes no specific regulations for Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound LAMPs. Instead, it is asking for federal funding to hold public meetings in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound to get the ball rolling. Coffey said the board lacks the money.

"It's their fishery, and we think they should contribute," he said.

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