NOAA Fisheries Proposes Authorizing Halibut RQE

NOAA Fisheries is proposing to authorize formation of a recreational quota entity that could purchase and hold commercial halibut quota shares for use by charter anglers in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

The proposed regulatory amendment would allow one non-profit RQE to obtain a limited amount of commercial halibut quota shares under a willing buyer-willing seller model. The harvest pounds associated with the quota shares would become recreational fishing quota that could be used to augment the amount of halibut available for harvest in the charter halibut fishery annually under the halibut catch sharing plan.

The proposed rule, recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting this week in Anchorage, was filed on Oct. 2 in the Federal Register. Once published, it opens a 45-day public comment period.

If the RQE obtains enough quota share, restrictions on halibut size and bag limits could be relaxed for charter anglers in years of low abundance, up to a point where charter anglers could potentially retain up to the daily limit for unguided anglers- which is currently two fish of any size each day.

The proposed rule would implement quota share purchase restrictions the by regulatory area.

For Area 2C in Southeast Alaska the RQE would be limited to purchase no more than one percent of the commercial quota shares in any year, and no more than 10 percent of the total commercial quota shares for that area. For area 3A, in Southcentral Alaska, the annual limit of commercial quota share purchases would be 1.2 percent, with an upper limit of 12 percent of the total quota shares in the area.

The RQE would be allowed to hold those quota shares indefinitely, but also allowed to transfer those shares back to the commercial halibut sector – a provision that adds flexibility to the program and contributes to the market-based approach, NOAA officials said.

NOAA also said that the proposed rule is necessary to promote social and economic flexibility in the charter halibut fishery, and intended to promote the goals and objectives of the North Pacific Halibut Act of 1982, and other applicable laws.

Comments may be submitted electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, at!docketDetail:D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0158, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. By mail, submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, assistant regional administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.