May 23, 2009
Commenting on the charter boat operators' efforts to overturn the new one halibut per day rule, Halibut Coalition representatives said the rule is both fair and necessary to protect halibut stocks. "The Council [NPFMC] has been working on charter halibut management plans since 1993," said Halibut Coalition Chair Linda Behnken. "The process has been both extensive and open, with public comment taken in more than 30 meetings and thousands of pages of analysis completed. It is disheartening that charter boat operators have chosen to sue, rather than reduce their catch to meet conservation goals."
A news release form the Halibut Coalition stated, "the halibut resource in Area 2C has suffered a significant decline in the past decade, with a 58 percent drop in exploitable biomass. The Southeast longline fleet has accepted a 54 percent reduction in the commercial quota over the past 4 years. While the cuts have created economic hardship for many commercial longliners, they acknowledge the smaller quota is necessary to ensure the long-term health of the fishery. The commercial fleet has never surpassed its quota since the IFQ system was implemented in1995."
The Halibut coaltion noted that in sharp contrast, the charter fleet has exceeded its Guideline Harvest Level (GHL) for five consecutive years. In 2008, the charter sector caught almost one million pounds more than it was allotted. This overage directly harms the threatened halibut resource and the harvesters that rely on the resource, including subsistence and unguided sport fishermen.
In order for all harvesters - subsistence, unguided sport, commercial and charter - to benefit from the halibut resource in the future, the Halibut Coalition said that the charter fleet must begin sharing in the conservation burden now. The one-halibut per day rule will force the charter fleet to stay closer to its allotted GHL, leaving more fish in the water to help rebuild the depleted stocks.
Halibut fishing along the Pacific Coast is managed under overall limits set for each fishing area. A NOAA Fisheries ealier news release stated that sport charter halibut fishermen in Southeast Alaska have exceeded their assigned harvest levels for several years.
"Sport charter fishing has grown in southeast Alaska while halibut abundance has decreased," said Doug Mecum, acting regional administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service in Alaska. "With this rule, we are trying to reduce the charter halibut catch to ensure that we continue to fish sustainably. We want to work with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on a long-term solution for sustainable fishing by both commercial and recreational fishing sectors."
As part of the new rule, effective June 5, a halibut sport charter vessel angler in southeast Alaska may use only one fishing line, and no more than a total of six lines are allowed on a charter vessel fishing for halibut. Further, charter operators, guides and crew are prohibited from catching and retaining halibut during a charter fishing trip.
Managers put a similar rule in place last spring, but sport charter halibut operators challenged it on procedural grounds and the agency withdrew the rule.
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