New halibut subsistence fishery draws 8,500 people

Posted: Tuesday, July 08, 2003

About 8,500 people have obtained certificates for halibut subsistence fishing since they became available in mid-May, and federal and tribal officials say for the most part the program has run smoothly.

"Most people are real excited about it, said Gordon Jackson, Tlingit-Haida Central Council business and economic development manager. "There's a lot of people applying for it. For the most part I think everybody's following all the rules and regulations pretty nicely."

The long-awaited halibut subsistence regulations, which took effect May 15, allow members of eligible rural communities and tribes to catch 20 halibut per day, year-round, using no more than 30 hooks per day. The regulations, which were created by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, grant eligibility to 117 communities and 120 tribal groups.

The North Pacific council is a federal, state and industry group that sets regulations for fisheries in U.S. waters off the coast of Alaska.

In Juneau, some members of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council are unhappy with the boundaries within which halibut subsistence fishing is allowed, Jackson said.

He said the fuel costs for traveling to the approved subsistence fishing waters north of Berners Bay, more than 40 miles from downtown, are steep.

Al McKinley, vice president of the Tlingit-Haida Community Council, Juneau's local tribal organization, said the regulations are meant to allow for customary and traditional use, and that Juneau's Natives are used to fishing for halibut off north Douglas Island and south Shelter Island. He said it's not safe for people with smaller boats to travel all the way to Berners Bay for subsistence fishing.

"Lots of our people don't actually have big 25-footers, and it's not safe for the 16-foot boats that our people utilize to go out and get the halibut. If you get caught out there with the wind, before you know it you're going to be reading about it in the newspaper, that they can't find them," McKinley said.

The boundaries are based on criteria for nonsubsistence areas established by state and federal officials, said Phil Smith, program administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's restricted access management program in Alaska.

"The (North Pacific council) paid a lot of attention to all the testimony it received when it defined the program. The council would certainly be willing to consider any proposal that anybody would wish to submit to amend the program," Smith said.

Another issue is compensation. The rules allow participants to receive up to $400 per year in noncommercial compensation for the customary sharing of the fish. Smith said the North Pacific council members are monitoring the program closely to be sure no one takes improper advantage of the provision.

"There was a photo that appeared in the Kodiak Daily Mirror and it said, 'Six-year-old so-and-so is selling halibut at the docks. She can sell up to $400 worth and she can use the money to buy a four-wheeler.' That's not the intent of this program," Smith said.

He said he hadn't heard of similar incidents.

It's unclear so far how many halibut have been caught under the program. Smith said the state Department of Fish and Game will survey certificate-holders at the end of the year to estimate how many fish were caught.

Masha Herbst can be reached at

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