NPFMC Asks for Further Analysis on Halibut Catch Sharing Plan

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has identified new preferred alternatives for a halibut catch sharing plan for further analysis, with final action now expected at its October meeting in Anchorage.

The vote at the council’s spring meeting in Anchorage came after hours of testimony and discussion. Duncan Fields, a council member from Kodiak, said that indeed some change will occur, but the question for the October meeting is what the magnitude of that change will be. The motion approved by the council on April 2 amended the federal council’s previous action on the halibut catch sharing plan in ways that stand to give an increased allocation to the charter sector, by revising charter allocations at lower levels of abundance.

The motion included recommendations of the Halibut Charter Management Implementation Committee and the council’s advisory panel to adopt the 2012 Model for determining annual charter halibut management measures under the catch sharing plan and remove the current matrix of management measures included in the current proposed rule.

Also included was the use of Alaska Department of Fish and Game logbooks as the primary data collection method, rather than the statewide harvest survey and a revision in the guided angler fish program, to issue GAF by conversion of individual fishing quota pounds to numbers of fish, based on the average weight of guided angler fish from the previous year.

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, noted in her testimony to the council the importance of both charter and commercial fishing businesses to the economic well being of coastal communities.

“During the 18 years this has been debated and re-debated at the council, the (Alaska) Board of Fish has implemented allocation between sport and commercial users for salmon, rockfish, lingcod, and developed management measures to stay with in the allocation,” she said. “We need the council process to quit the endless rounds of analysis and provide resolution.”

Behnken said data in the supplemental analysis on the halibut issue available to the council showed that “a person following the rules and buying quota share periodically over the years is now so far underwater (financially) that they cannot sell the quota share to pay off their debt.”

Behnken said the analysis showed the impacts on commercial fishermen caused by uncertainty and low abundance of halibut.

She cited data in that analysis showing that a person who bought 3,500 pounds of halibut individual fishing quota in 2003 now has less than 1,000 pounds, or a decline of more than two-thirds. Another table in that analysis shows that the average vessel harvest has declined, but not as much as the quota cuts, indicating that quota share holders are fishing together on fewer boats, resulting in lost crew jobs and down stream economic hardships, she said.