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Judge won't block halibut charter rules in Alaska

Posted: April 27, 2011 - 8:24pm

ANCHORAGE — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has refused to block new rules aimed at reducing the number of charter boats operating along a long stretch of Alaska coastline.

The Charter Operators of Alaska filed a lawsuit seeking to block new National Marine Fisheries Service rules that ushered in a limited-entry program in February. The Anchorage Daily News reported that the judge denied the request late Tuesday.

Under the new rules, charter boat guides who have been in business certain years will be able to get permits, but newcomers will have to find someone with a transferable permit willing to sell.

The program requires that boat owners demonstrate they participated in the fishery in 2004 or 2005, as well as 2008, to qualify for a permit.

The trade group says the rule would knock 327 charters out of business. It sought to ensure that charters operating last year could continue.

Commercial fishermen take about three-quarters of the halibut landed in Alaska each year. Concerns about the growing halibut charter sector began in the 1990s.

Charter operators claim that the limited-entry plan would do nothing to reduce the halibut harvest. The trade group planned to meet Wednesday to decide its next step.

The deadline for applying for a permit was April 5. Over 500 businesses were expected to apply for a total of 920 permits under the new limited-entry program.

Kent Haina, who runs Poi Boy Fishing and Wilderness Lodge in Homer, said the judge’s decision is unfortunate and will affect a lot of people.

“The (public) groundswell just wasn’t there that I expected,” said Haina, a Charter Operators of Alaska board member. “When charter prices go up to $300 a person this summer, maybe then we’ll hear it.”

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