NPFMC Moves Forward on Halibut Catch Sharing Plan Changes

Image via North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

An initial review is expected in December regarding a contentious halibut catch share plan before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, in the wake of a decision at its virtual meeting in February to direct staff to produce a detailed analysis of alternative options.

The analysis will evaluate changes for Area 2C (Southeast Alaska) and Area 3A (Southcentral Alaska) and explore methods of implementing charter measures for more than one year.

The decision came following extensive public and written testimony, the bulk of which supported keeping the charter/commercial catch share allocation as it was adopted in 2012 and implemented in 2014, with passage of the 2C/3A Halibut Catch Sharing Plan.

The Halibut Coalition, a collective of commercial fishermen and processors, expressed disappointment with the council’s February decision, saying the motion keeps open the possibility of another uncompensated reallocation of commercial quota, or individual fishing quotas, to charter operators.

The coalition also noted that when the catch share plan was adopted in 2014, charter operators received 125% of their historic catch at low levels of abundance, with the additional 25% coming from the commercial longline sector, and at that time the commercial longline sector was assured that no further uncompensated reallocations would be considered.

Bob Alverson, manager of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association, and a U.S. member of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, noted that the NPFMC has struggled with halibut allocation issues between commercial and charter interests for 25 years. The matter seemed to have been resolved when the council supported the idea that charter interests could purchase commercial quota to augment charter seasons and catch, he said.

“The NPFMC chose to allow the marketplace to be the arbiter of future allocations,” Alverson remarked. “This reconsideration of allocation puts Alaska, Washington and Oregon commercial and charter interests in unnecessarily adversarial positions which is something previous council members intended to avoid.”

Richard Yamada, a fishing lodge owner in Southeast Alaska who is president of the Alaska Charter Association and like Alverson, a U.S. member of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, supported the review of the Catch Sharing Plan program and the allocation review. In written testimony, he said that the continued decline in halibut abundance and provisions provided by the catch sharing plan to protect the viability of the charter fleet in times of low abundance were severely inadequate.

Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken noted that in 2012 the council committed to the sharing plan ending 20 years of uncompensated reallocation of commercial quota to the charter sector, and included a one-way market-based mechanism to allow charter operators to increase harvesting opportunities for the clients by leaving quota.

Marc Carrel, a spokesperson for Cordova District Fishermen United, also spoke in opposition to modifying the sharing plan.

“We have enjoyed working together with charter fishing groups at the IPHC and NPFMC and would like this alliance to continue to remain strong,” he said.