Editor’s note: With this entry, Northwest Coast Energy News launches its planned expansion of coverage from energy and energy related environment issues to include other environmental and related issues in the northwest, including fishery issues.
For the past year, anglers, guides and outfitters on the British Columbia coast have been concerned about the allocation problems with the halibut fishery, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans sticking to the original quota system of 88 per cent of the total allowable catch going to the commercial fishery and 12 per cent to the recreational fishery, which includes both recreational anglers and the tourist industry.
There have been parallel problems in the state of Alaska, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which governs the US fishery, began moves to take away the licences from many of the halibut charter operators on the lower end of the income scale. That move is currently being challenged in a federal court in Washington, DC.
On Thursday, NOAA proposed solutions to Alaska halibut dispute, in effect, handing the hot potato decision on halibut allocationover to the International Pacifc Halibut Commission, suggesting that the Commission decide the split for charter and commercial allocation when making the overall decision on total allowable catch. NOAA has also proposed allowing Alaska halibut charter operators to buy commercial quota, similar to the Canadian proposal from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans last winter.
The key phrase in the July 21 NOAA news release says
The International Pacific Halibut Commission, through which the United
States and Canada jointly manage the halibut resource from California to
the Bering Sea, would determine total commercial and charter catch
limits for southeast Alaska and the central Gulf of Alaska each year
before the fishing season….
Allocations to the charter and commercial sectors would vary with changes in the number of halibut available for harvest as determined by the best available science.
The actual details from the US Federal Register states:
The International Pacific Halibut Commission would
divide the annual combined catch limits into separate annual catch limits for the commercial and guided sport fisheries. The CSP (catch sharing plan) allocates a fixed percentage of the annual combined catch limit to the guided sport and commercial fisheries. The fixed percentage allocation to each sector varies with halibut abundance. The IPHC would multiply the CSP allocation percentages for each area by the annual combined catch limit to calculate the commercial and guided sport catch limits in net pounds. At moderate to low levels of halibut abundance, the CSP could provide the guided sport sector with a smaller poundage catch limit than it would have received under the GHL (guideline harvest levels) program. Conversely, at higher levels of abundance, the CSP could provide the guided sport sector with a larger poundage catch limit than it would have received under the GHL program.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council intended the CSP sector allocations to balance the needs of the guided sport and commercial sectors at all levels of halibut abundance.
Although the CSP allocation method is a significant change from the current allocation method under the GHL, National Marine Fisheries Service believes that the allocation under the CSP provides a more equitable management response
On the issue of buying commercial quota, the NOAA release says:
The catch sharing plan would authorize transfers of commercial halibut individual fishing quota to charter halibut permit holders for harvest by anglers in the charter halibut fishery.
Those transfers would offer charter vessel anglers in southeastern Alaska and the central Gulf of Alaska an opportunity to catch additional halibut, up to specified limits.
The news release goes on to say:
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended the rule to
establish a clear allocation between the commercial and charter sectors
that fish in these areas.
Currently, the commercial and charter halibut fisheries are managed
under different programs. The commercial halibut fishery has been
managed under a catch limit program since 1995. The charter halibut
sector has been managed under a different harvest guideline since 2003,
which gives charter fishermen a number of fish they can catch per guided
angler per day, but does not ensure the overall catch stays within a
definitive catch limit.
The proposed catch sharing plan, which is scheduled to be in place by
2012, is designed to foster a sustainable fishery by preventing
overharvesting of halibut and would introduce provisions that provide
flexibility for charter and commercial fishermen.
Those who wish to comment on the draft policy must respond before September 6.
Link to NOAA news release
NOAA draft rule in US Federal Register