Halibut bag limit stays at one

Charters will contiue to seek retraction of the single-fish rule

Posted: Friday, June 05, 2009

Southeast Alaska's one-halibut daily bag limit for charter operators will go into effect today as planned, a Washington, D.C., judge decided Thursday.

The bag limit has long been two fish daily. In May, six fishing charters and lodge owners sued the National Marine Fisheries Service in federal district court over this year's lower bag limit and included a request for an emergency hold on the new rule while the case is pending. The judge's denial of that request Thursday is an initial loss for the charter interests, though they'll continue seeking a permanent retraction of the one-fish rule.

Last year, charters won a case against a similar rule on procedural grounds.

NMFS said it fixed the procedural problem and reissued the rule.

NMFS officials are charged with managing the commercial and sport sectors, but they don't decide the limit. The International Pacific Halibut Commission, a Canada-U.S. treaty group, figures out how much halibut there is and how much should be caught in each area, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council divvies up the Southeast total between the sectors.

The charters' harvest has grown dramatically over the past 15 years and has exceeded its allocation since 2004.

Facing less abundant halibut this year, NMFS said the rule was needed to keep the charters in check for the sake of both conservation and allocation.

The charters say it's an unfair allocation, though. And in the lawsuit, the charters say the bag limit will harm their businesses because out-of-town fishermen will just go elsewhere, such as two-fish-a-day Southcentral Alaska.

The charters' opponents are calling themselves the Halibut Coalition. It's made up of commercial and subsistence fishermen, halibut processors, and two villages that depend on taxes from commercial halibut landings - Pelican and Port Armstrong.

They have filed to help the government defend the bag limit against the charters.

Southeast's halibut longliners have already taken deep cuts in what they can catch in recent years, and they argue the charters should share the burden of conservation.

The next step is to set a trial date.

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