Restructured Groundfish, Halibut Observer Program Draws Fire

A final rule to restructure the North Pacific observer
program for groundfish and halibut is set for publication in early December,
with implementation in January, but many in the commercial fishing industry say
they can’t support the program.
At issue is the cost to the industry and a whole lot more.
According to harvesters, processors and conservationists who
are seeking help from Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Sean Parnell,
the restructured plan would double costs, halve observer days, reduce coverage
in high volume fisheries with substantial Chinook and halibut bycatch, and fail
to provide a workable monitoring system for small vessels.
The group is asking Parnell and Alaska’s congressional
delegation to help hold the National Marine Fisheries Service accountable for
addressing industry concerns prior to implementation of the restructured
program or at minimum, prior to deployment of observers in the vessel selected
That’s the category applying to catcher vessels fishing with
hook-and-line and pot gear that are less than 57.5 feet in overall length, and,
for the first year, greater than or equal to 40 feet in overall length.
The group contends that the plan places the largest economic
burden on the 1,300 small boats operating out of Alaska’s coastal communities.
It also reduces coverage in high volume fisheries with substantial Chinook and
halibut bycatch, and doubles the cost of an observer day relative to current
levels, and assigns over half of the observed trips to vessels accounting for
less than 12 percent of the catch, they said.
The letter is signed by an eclectic bunch, ranging from the
Alaska Marine Conservation Council and United Fishermen’s Marketing Association
to the Halibut Association of North America, Alaska Trollers Association,
Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities