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Welcome to halibut allocation chaos

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, March 08, 2007

After reading the Feb. 28 Sitka Sentinel article about rejecting the one-a-day halibut rule for guided charter fishermen, I just wanted to take a little time to thank local charter operators who wrote letters and the local Chamber of Commerce who sent a representative to Washington D.C., to destabilize the free-market allocation solution called charter individual fishing quotas. Welcome to allocation chaos.

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It seems the political will does not exist to hold the charter fleet to any allocation number. Guys like me, who sacrificed time and money to buy into the halibut fishery, will be left to take up the slack for the charter fleet's overages.

Sooner or later the charter fleet will have to be held to an allocation number. One fish a day is a management tool that must be left on the table. Moratorium alone will not contain charter-halibut growth because there are permits now that are lightly used. As those permits are bought and sold, they will likely come into possession by people who fish them more actively. Besides, a moratorium is just the first step to limited entry. The final solution is likely years off. Before then, management tools will be needed to protect the resource from exponential charter growth.

An annual limit has been used successfully by the state to manage king salmon. At the last North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage, commercial and charter fishermen recommended such an approach for halibut. This idea was torpedoed by enforcement representatives who deemed it too hard and costly to enforce.

It seems to me that annual limits on charter boats would be near self-enforcing. The charter captain has an excuse to get off the ocean (save fuel or go back to a family) once the punch tag is filled. And if some guides were taking bribes to ignore numbers of fish landed, that secret cannot be kept for long. Most fishermen are not pirates and will follow the law.

If annual limits can work for deer hunters, they should work even better for guided-fishing tours. Annual limits are a management tool that community leaders should embrace as enthusiastically as the repeal of charter individual fishing quotas. Fisheries and communities need a long-term solution to this festering issue.

I challenge charter interests to fight hard for the annual limit. But why should they when I still have 5,000 pounds left?

Bert Bergman

Sitka



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