Southeast commercial fishermen question halibut charter guidelines

Business owner says education takes the sting out of bag limits

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2007

With the commercial fishing industry facing large cuts in its 2008 halibut take, some industry insiders are questioning what types of controls might be placed on guided charter operators.

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Recommendations made this month by the International Pacific Halibut Commission reduce the total halibut catch for commercial and sport fishing in Southeast Alaska by more than 2 million pounds.

It is unclear whether those limits will affect sport fishermen, who operate under guidelines instead of strict catch limits. For the past few years, the sport fishing industry exceeded its guideline harvest level, and commercial fishermen say that's unfair.

"In the end, it really comes down to everybody has to be responsible for the resource," said harvester Kathy Hansen.

The halibut commission suggested stepping down sport fishing's take in 2008, from 1.432 million pounds to 930,000 pounds and dropping angler bag limits from two fish per day to only one.

Last year brought a similar recommendation, but the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which decides how quotas will be managed in the United States, took a more conservative approach. It decided to maintain the two-fish limit but said one could be no longer than 32 inches.

While some charter operators say reducing their clients' limit to one fish would hurt business, one Sitka operator takes a different view.

Angela Filler, a five-year owner of Sitka Charters who books her own clients, says she educates potential customers about the fishery by explaining the importance of conservation.

"I tell them we're depleting the resource and it's showing an impact," Filler said. "When they have it explained to them in the way I do, you don't get any resistance."

Last year, Filler's business took 900 people fishing, including cruise ship passengers and other groups. She maintains that tourists come for the experience of sport fishing, not necessarily to take coolers-full of fish home.

"Quit targeting the meat hunters," she advised others in her line of work. "There are clientele out there that will come for the experience of Alaska."

Other business owners say anglers won't pay $200 to $250 for a day charter trip to catch one fish.

Hansen said commercial fishermen are bearing the brunt of conservation efforts, as their catch limits keep dropping and sport fishermen aren't held accountable. Southeast commercial fishermen are facing a 28 percent drop in 2008, on top of a 20 percent drop in catch limits last season.

"None of this is pleasant: How'd you like your paycheck cut 40 percent over two years?" she asked.

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