Panel tries to limit charter fishermen to a single halibut

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2007

An international panel voted Friday to allow halibut anglers only a single catch on Southeast and Southcentral Alaska charter boats this summer.

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The limit was two halibut, but the six-member International Pacific Halibut Commission opted to lower it in an effort to keep the charter fleet from exceeding its harvest limits.

The vote took place during a meeting in Victoria, Canada. That new rule will take effect if approved by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Commercial fishermen urged the bag-limit cut, saying the growing charter catch was cutting into their harvest. The charter fleet exceeded its allowable amount of halibut caught in 2006 by 47 percent.

"We had tried to work through a (joint charter boat and commercial fishermen) working group whether there were measures that were less onerous," said Linda Behnken, Director of Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association. "They did not identify anything."

Charter boat captains say that the limit will have a huge impact on their ability to market tours.

"Most of the people that I have spoken to have known this is coming (and say) 'There is not going to be any way I am going to spend $200 to $250 dollars to catch one fish,'" said Donna Bondioli, a charter boat captain in Homer and a member of the Alaska Charter Association.

"Tourism has grown much faster than what most people thought that it would. There has been no mechanism up until this point for the charters to obtain a higher percentage of this allocation," she said.

She said limiting the number of halibut might have a negative impact on other fish such as the rockfish and king salmon anglers may try for instead.

Fishermen on charter boats will be allowed one halibut from June 15 to June 30 in Southcentral and from June 15 to the end of July in the Southeast.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council could forestall the one-fish limit if it finds its own method to keep the charter halibut industry from exceeding its harvest limits, officials said.

However, the council would need to find a solution by June 15, and the council had already stated that it probably wouldn't be able to resolve the issue in time for this year's halibut season.

The council told the international panel in December that it plans to take steps to keep the halibut charter fleet within its harvest limits in time for the 2008 charter season.

The issue will be addressed again soon.

"No one is thinking of this as long term. It is a one year, possibly two-year fix," Behnken said. The council is currently looking at its overall harvest control measures, which are expected to be in place in 2008 and would supersede the Friday ruling.

The commission is a joint U.S.-Canadian organization that is based in Seattle. It was founded in 1923.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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