JUNEAU (AP) -- New federal rules would allow rural residents and some Alaska Natives living in urban areas to take 20 halibut a day for subsistence.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council's unanimously recommendation will go to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce for approval, and the rules could be in effect in a year.
The decision will allow nearly 90,000 Alaskans to take up to 20 halibut a day, compared to the current sport-fish limit of two halibut a day.
Council members said the policy recognizes that many rural subsistence users now take more than the legal limit anyway.
''It's a recognition of a traditional and customary use that's long overdue,'' said Kevin Duffy, a deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who sits on the council.
''I think legitimizing a practice that has been in our midst forever is the right thing to do,'' said Ed Thomas, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
Eligible subsistence fishermen would include anyone living in rural Alaska communities with customary and traditional subsistence fishing for halibut. That includes about 82,000 people in 116 coastal communities such as Hoonah, Angoon, Craig, Gustavus, Haines, Klawock, Petersburg, Sitka and Skagway.
The rules also include about 5,500 Natives who belong to one of 118 tribes from rural areas that have a customary and traditional use of halibut. That would allow some Natives from Juneau and Ketchikan, for example, to subsistence fish for halibut in their rural tribal area.
Carl Rosier, president of the Alaska Outdoor Council, a sportsmen's advocacy group, said the council went substantially further than the definition of subsistence areas in the federal Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
''It's probably going to polarize people some more over the subsistence issue,'' Rosier said. Under the proposed rules, for example, a non-Native who was raised in Dillingham and moved to Anchorage wouldn't be eligible for subsistence halibut fishing, while a Native in the same circumstances would, Rosier said.
Subsistence fishermen would be allowed to use as many as 30 hooks on a variety of gear. They could sell as much as $400 worth of halibut a year, but commercial processors wouldn't be allowed to buy it.
Biologists estimate 1.5 million pounds of halibut already are taken for subsistence yearly, about 1 percent of the estimated volume of halibut in the North Pacific. The commercial catch is about 50 million pounds a year.
Subsistence and sport fishermen face no yearly quota, although the council did approve a catch limit for sport charters.
Commercial fishermen have individual portions of an overall quota that is determined after subtracting estimates of the sport and subsistence catch.
'''If there is an increase of subsistence, it will come at the expense of the commercial fishery'' said Jane DiCosimo, a biologist with the council. ''We don't think that will happen. The whole idea is to legalize current practice, not to increase it.''
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