My turn: Charter excess punishes commercial fishermen

Large Southeast charter harvest has caused halibut removals to exceed the allowable catch

Posted: Friday, December 22, 2006

In Tuesday's Juneau Empire, Bruce Warner asked, "Why is the sport fishery allocation at 15 percent?" This question is misleading because actually the sport fishery is more than 15 percent and has been for a few years now.

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The data Warner was likely looking at was the charter harvest only.

Allocation concerns every Alaskan from subsistence, personal-use, commercial and, yes, even charter fishermen. It should be judged by facts not fiction, and it needs to be looked at objectively, as it affects all Alaskans.

Halibut allocation is based on past participation in the fishery. When the original charter allocation guideline harvest level was set, the charter fishery was given 125 percent of its average harvest. In the last five years the sport charter industry has grown so that its 47 percent over its harvest level, even with the buffer provided for growth.

Many charter operations in the last few years have been started by people who move to Alaska from the Lower 48 and are unaware of the history of allocation or the reasons behind the decisions. They have not watched the commercial fleet morph from a "derby-style" fishery into the individual fishing quota program. It was not a transition without problems or pain, but it was for the betterment of the biomass and gave stability to the fishery.

Commercial halibut fishermen are regulated and must account for every fish brought aboard. They are given a quota every year and told how many pounds they can catch. Each fishermen must stay within their allocated quota or face fines or even jail time.

Halibut is a federal fish and not an Alaska fish. The commercial industry pays a fee to the federal government for the costs of management and enforcement of the fishery.

At this time, the charter sport fishermen are getting their re-allocation by overfishing their harvest level, and regulated commercial fishermen are punished for the sport fishery's overharvesting out of their total allowable catch. This means commercial fishermen's individual fishing quota pounds are reduced to make up for the sport fishery's overharvesting. Many of these commercial fishermen purchased their quotas and are still paying off loans that don't change for the lost pounds transferred to the charter industry. The International Pacific Halibut Commission calls for a 29 percent reduction in harvest for the commercial fleet in Southeast Alaska in 2007.

The point that many people do not understand is that the large charter harvest in Southeast (Area 2C) caused the total halibut removals to exceed the allowable catch set by the halibut commission. This creates a conservation aspect that is not being acknowledged as long as there is a commercial harvest left to take more allocation away from. It is with this type of overharvesting by the charter fleet that will lead to the closure of this fishery for everyone. Allocation will be a moot point because there will be nothing left to allocate.

By the way, currently not a single member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council holds an Alaska commercial fishing permit. The lone commercial fisherman, Arne Fulgvog from Petersburg, resigned this summer and has not been replaced.

• Kate File is a Juneau resident.

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