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Fishery council staff defend catch sharing plan

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Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 12:13 am | Updated: 10:31 am, Fri Sep 13, 2013.

Editor's note: North Pacific Fishery Management Council staff are not employees of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The original article incorrectly identified them as such. Also, the due date for comments was Aug. 26.

FAIRBANKS — A proposed plan to allocate halibut catch shares between charter and commercial boats will not necessarily lead to a one-fish per day limit for charter boat customers in waters off Southcentral Alaska, according to a summary released by North Pacific Fishery Management Council staff.

The plan would replace the current “guideline harvest level” system with a system that allocates a percentage of the total allowable halibut catch between the commercial and charter sectors. The council staff said the plan was developed, in part, to allow the allocation between commercial and charter sectors to fluctuate, “with relatively higher allocations to the charter sector in years of lower abundance, when that sector would be most affected.”

However, some charter boat operators have criticized the latest so called “catch-sharing plan,” saying it could lead to a one-fish per trip limit in Southcentral Alaska waters, similar to the rule applied in Southeast Alaska during the past three years.

The staff summary said that criticism is “unfounded.”

The summary was placed on items for the council to consider in advance of its Sept. 30-Oct.8 meeting in Anchorage. The plan is not on the council’s meeting agenda.

If the plan would have been in effect this year, the staff summary said, “in Area 3A (southcentral), the (charter) allocation would have been 17.5 percent of the combined catch limit for that area (slightly higher than the 2012 harvest), and would have resulted in no change to bag limits (i.e., the limit would have remained two fish of any size).”

The staff said they would expect a similar result next year. “Barring a significant reduction in halibut abundance in 2014, a two-fish bag limit is expected to continue in Area 3A (southcentral),” the summary said.

The staff also asserted that the halibut fisheries in Southcentral and Southeast have “have essentially been operating under a catch sharing program for the past four years, the difference being the charter sector was managed to a slightly different (slightly higher) target, called the Guideline Harvest Level, which changes only with large shifts in halibut abundance.”

The proposed plan “requires both commercial and charter sectors to share in the burden of conservation based on receiving percentage allocations of an overall catch limit,” their summary said.

The proposed plan was published by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Federal Register in June and comments were due Aug. 26. The plan is based on an outline approved by the management council in October 2012.

The plan also would create a process to annually identify, before the season starts, what restrictions might be placed on charter boats during the season if necessary to keep their harvest within the percentage allocation.

 The staff said a one-fish rule would not be the first step taken in Southcentral to lower charter harvests.

 “Less onerous measures would first be considered, such as a two-fish limit where one of the fish would be of any size and a second fish of a smaller size, or restricting overall effort (again, for example) by setting an annual limit on the number of halibut each angler can harvest, or closing the fishery on certain day(s) of the week,” the staff summary said.

Another new feature of the plan would allow a charter operator, when faced with a one-fish limit, to lease a limited amount of quota from commercial operators so the charter operator could offer clients a two-fish daily trip.

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