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State charter businesses frustrated by halibut rule

Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2008

KETCHIKAN - The charter industry is reacting with fear and disappointment to a new rule limiting clients to one halibut a day in Southeast Alaska.

Clay Slanaker, president of the Ketchikan Guided Sportfish Association, said some Canadian lodges have begun advertising that clients can catch more halibut in Canada than they are allowed in Southeast Alaska.

"The charter industry itself is very frustrated," Slanaker said. "And in Area 2C (Southeast Alaska), it's going to take a big hit on us this year and in the future for sure, there's no doubt about it."

Anglers aboard charter boats will be limited to one halibut a day beginning June 1, according to a new federal rule announced Thursday.

The rule, which reduces the bag limit from two fish a day, also limits the number of lines fishing from a charter boat to the number of charter clients on board, up to a total of six lines.

It also bars charter guides and crew from catching or keeping halibut while clients are aboard, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service.

Charter industry representatives say the change is going to have far-reaching economic implications.

But commercial halibut fishermen support the change in hopes it will keep the charter sector within the "guideline harvest levels" set through the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The commercial fleet saw its harvest quota for halibut drop about 27 percent this year to 6.21 million pounds from 8.52 million in 2007.

Meanwhile, charter harvests of halibut have exceeded target levels each year since the guideline harvest level program was established in 2004. During the past four years, the charter fleet has caught an average of 1.8 million pounds per year.

"It certainly is a necessary move by the North Pacific Council and I am very happy to see that it was backed up by (Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez)," said Jev Shelton, a commercial longline fisherman and a board member of the industry-based Halibut Coalition.

The rule was recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council earlier this year, largely in response to a reduction in the overall halibut harvest limit established for Southeast Alaska during 2008 by the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

The harvest quota reduction, which the IPHC said was based mostly on a change in how it assesses halibut stock strength rather than conservation concerns, reduced the charter sector's target harvest from 1.4 million pounds in 2007 to about 931,000 pounds this year.

Kimberly Tebrugge, a spokeswoman for the Charter Halibut Task Force, said charter operators are "in a little bit of a panic" now.

"We've already received a lot of news that people are getting cancellations before the rule came out, in anticipation of the rule," Tebrugge said. "It will be interesting to see in the next week or so what that does to the reservations of clients who've already planned for their vacations, and have already paid for their vacations, expecting the same trip they got last year."



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