North Council Approves Halibut Catch Sharing Plan

Marcia Lynn

     For two decades, commercial fishermen and charter halibut operators in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska have been embroiled in a battle over how much fish each sector should be allowed to catch.  

     It’s far from simple, and management of the fishery goes beyond the state level—involving an international panel of regulators and the federal government.  

     In an effort to end the ongoing fish fight a new plan was approved by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its meeting in Anchorage last week.  Both sides have expressed concerns over the council’s recommendations.

     Halibut is a federally managed fishery.  But Scott Meyer fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer does a lot of data analysis useful to the council, regulators and fishermen trying to understand how management changes will affect their businesses. 

     The new catch sharing plan - or CSP - would replace the Guideline Harvest Level - or GHL - plan now being used for the charter fleet.  Commercial fishermen and charter operators would share the halibut resource and each sector would have set allocations that vary according to the levels of halibut abundance.  The council chose two different management alternatives for Area 2C, Southeast and Area 3A, Southcentral.

The council motion to recommend the CSP was passed by a 10 to 1 vote on Friday, October 5th.  Meyer was there and said both sectors tried to work together.  

     “There was tension, but I felt like representatives from each user group were really trying to compromise," he said. "There seemed to be a recognition that neither one would get exactly what they wanted.”  

     Charter boat captain Greg Sutter of Homer sees it one way.  

     “The new plan removes allocation from charter anglers and reallocates the fish to commercial quota share holders” said Sutter.  

     While Roland Maw, of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, says, “In Area 3A they went with option number 4 which, in essence, increased the allocation to the charter sector.”

     Elements of the new plan include a provision that each sector be accountable for waste associated with its fishery, meaning that wasted fish will be subtracted from each sector’s allocation.  It would also create a Guided Angler Fish program that lets the commercial sector lease quota to charter operators.  

     If approved by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce the CSP will be implemented in 2014, and it will not affect regulations for the unguided halibut sport fishery.