Fishery problems are not so simple

Letter to the editor

Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I noted Kate File's comments on the halibut fishery (charter versus commercial) in the Dec. 22, 2006, edition of the Juneau Empire.

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While I agree with her ultimate concern (total closure of the fishery), the problem is not quite as simple as she suggested.

In the easiest terms to understand, the fishery is basically split into two parts. Eighty-seven percent commercial, 13 percent everyone else. The everyone else includes not only charter but subsistence and sports as well.

Reporting requirements are at best iffy, and some of the figures used by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council are totally unrealistic. For example, these organizations say the average weight of a halibut caught is 20 pounds, while our own experience for the 100 or so halibut our clients catch each season is far more than 30 pounds, a 50 percent difference.

Several years ago, we wrote the International Pacific Halibut Commission (with copies to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council), voicing our concerns when the allocation for Area 2C stood at more than 13 million pounds. Since then, we've seen the catch reduced first to 10-plus million pounds in 2006 to 7.5 million for 2007.

Recently, I was told that in either 2004 or 2005, the subsistence fishery catch had been estimated at 1.3 million pounds. The charter catch has to be at least that much, if not more, and the sports catch (all Alaska citizens living in Area 2C) substantial as well. Realistically, what's the likely total catch of these three groups? Probably far more than three million pounds.

We have read about some of the possible solutions the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is considering to address the problem. Most seem nonsensical at best.

I'm not one who has much faith in the ability of government to solve problems (not that I can't, it's just that it doesn't). Nevertheless, the sharp decline of the halibut biomass in just the past couple of years is dramatic enough, and the probable economic consequences sever enough, to justify Alaska government officials convening a meeting of all interested parties to see if reasonable solutions can't be achieved before all suffer the consequences of benign neglect.

Michael A. McIntosh Sr.

Washington, D.C.

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