Gov. Frank Murkowski and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell are due real plaudits from all of us for their firm stand against the charter boat individual fishing quotas at the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting on Dec. 8. Their firm leadership led a watershed vote to rescind those predatory IFQs. The public won; we kept our halibut harvest rights.
Since 1977, we, the public, have had the right to take our harvest of halibut "off the top" of the annual halibut harvest limit. The balance of the allowable harvest has then been commercially caught and sold. And that's the way it should be; what we need for dinner tables and freezers should come first.
Then about 1997, the commercial statewide harvest of 90 percent wasn't enough for the Pacman halibut longliners. They pushed through the council a harvest cap on charter boat anglers in Homer and Juneau. They followed that up in 2001 with the charter boat IFQs that were planned to permanently gobble up a share of our 10 percent of the harvest.
Quite bluntly, these two restrictions to our harvest rights were developed and pushed through by the council by the longliners association representing the 3,461 people who own these commercial harvest shares, 2,710 of whom are Alaskans. What does 10 percent of the halibut harvest mean to Alaskan sports anglers? It's big! In a year, more than 200,000 Alaskans (1/3 of our population) go to sea to catch these wonderful fish for our families' dinners. Sixty percent of us go in charter boats. In 2004, we caught 310,000 halibut to take home to eat and put in our freezers. Add in the 179,450 halibut than non-residents caught in 2004, and you have the largest halibut sport fishery in our nation. It is an important economic industry worth tens of millions of dollars.
At the council, in a reconsideration vote, five of the Alaskans on the council voted to rescind these restrictive IFQs - while the sixth, an Alaskan longliner who owns commercial shares, voted to keep them. A council member from Oregon, Roy Hyder, joined us to cast the critical vote needed to rescind. The public won, with a 6-to-5 vote.
The outcome isn't settled for good yet; those Pacman longliners still want to gobble up part of 10 percent harvest. The issue will continue at the council next year; please stay tuned in.
We sportsmen and the charter boat captains who fought against this issue would not have had a chance without the state's strong stance against these predatory IFQs. When you go halibut fishing this next year, tip your hat to the governor and Commissioner Campbell, and thank them for defending our "public rights." They were our leaders. Good fishing!
Robert C. Penney is a member of Cook Inlet Sportfishing Caucus and has been a sportfishing advocate for 40 years.