The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in Kodiak June 4 through the 11.
The council was set to discuss the seemingly growing number of unguided rental boats within the halibut charter industry, but council member Andy Mezirow – owner of Gray Light Charters in Seward – said the agenda item will likely be postponed until the fall in order to collect more information.
Mezirow said the council is concerned that halibut charters are bypassing the reduced number of fishing days during the summer and other regulations by offering unguided rental boats.
“In Southeast Alaska, it’s a growing concern, and what they’re doing is using those rental boats to get around the charter bag limit and sending those clients out on those inside waters,” Mezirow explained. “There are fleets of up to 40 rental boats there.”
Sport fishermen on private boats are allowed to catch two halibut of any size per day rather than the more restricted limit anglers follow when fishing with a guide.
The council asked NPFMC staff to explore how many rental boats halibut charters are offering throughout the state, but rental boats are registered just like any privately owned sport fishing vessel in Alaska, making it difficult to get a grasp on the problem.
“If they can find 200 of them through an internet search, that’s going to let us know there’s a significant number of them. But to say we just don’t know at all how many there are, that really isn’t helping us inform a decision,” Mezirow said. “That’s the piece that’s really missing.”
Mezirow said the council will likely ask staff to expand the current 16-page discussion paper and pick up the discussion at its meeting in October. Mezirow adds that it’s unclear whether there’s will on the council to impose any new regulations on rental boats offered by charter operations. But he said if the council does craft new rules, it will likely focus on larger operations and not businesses renting just a few boats.
“If you’re making money in the business of taking people out for halibut, then a rental boat falls into that category of people making money getting people access to halibut,” Mezirow said. “I think that’s the area that draws concern with the council. It’s not the private boater, it’s not the guy that is renting a couple of boats, it’s a lodge that’s gone from having 30 charter boats to having 50 rental boats.”
The council will also receive a report on the North Pacific Observer Program, which helps track mortality rates of discarded fish and bycatch levels for several species. The council will recommend changes to the program in October, including whether to increase fees for fishermen and processors. It will make its final decision on those recommendations over next winter.
The council also plans to host two outreach meetings for rural charter operations and commercial IFQ holders.