The controversial vote came during the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage after extensive testimony from set line harvesters opposed to the move and charter operators who favored it.
The council’s vote clears the way for regulations to be written and for the NPFMC to seek approval for the federal Department of Commerce. After that an RQE can be formed and the charter operators will have to find the financial means for purchasing halibut quota, “so it has quite a long way to go before we can anticipate seeing any transfers and purchasing ability out of the charter sector from the commercial fleet,” said council member Theresa Peterson, a commercial harvesters from Kodiak. Peterson estimated it would be at least two to three years before an RQE is formed and it could be longer than that before they have actually identified a means to raise the money to purchase quota.”
Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in Sitka, said that the council’s decision to establish the RQE as a qualified non-profit entity to purchase and hold commercial halibut quota share for use by the guided halibut sector gave the charter industry priority over subsistence, sport and commercial fishermen.
“As proposed, the subsidized reallocation will destabilize and undermine subsistence, non-guided sport and commercial sectors to provide a few more inches of halibut opportunity to guided sport clients,” Behnken said. “The very title, ‘recreational quota entity,’ is a misnomer. This amendment fosters charter client opportunity at the expense of non-guided recreation opportunity,” she said.
“The Halibut Catch Sharing Plan, which took the council over 20 years to develop and has only been in place for three years, balanced the concerns of all sectors in arriving at an allocation and provided charter operators with a market based opportunity to increase harvesting options for their clients,” she said. “The subsidized reallocation established through the RQE will raise the cost of entry to commercial halibut fisheries, undermine the viability of the commercial processors, support sectors and communities, and reduce public access to Alaska’s halibut.”