Kodiak Daily Mirror - Halibut limits are hot issue at meeting of Alaska House fisheries committee
Halibut limits are hot issue at meeting of Alaska House fisheries committee
by James Brooks / editor@kodiakdailymirror.com
Sep 02, 2011 | 109 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KODIAK — The Alaska House of Representatives Fisheries Committee held a special meeting Thursday in Anchorage to address the new catch sharing plan proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The proposal has drawn heated comments from charter fishermen, who protest that it will limit charters to just one halibut per day. In exchange, commercial fisheries quotas could be transferred to charter fishermen who need more fish than they are allotted.

The limits would apply to International Pacific Halibut Commission areas 2C (Southeast Alaska) and 3A. Currently, charter fishermen in 2C are limited to one fish per angler per day, while 3A enjoys a two per angler limit.

The 3A region stretches from the southern tip of Kodiak Island to a point east of Yakutat. So far this year, Kodiak has landed 4.178 million pounds of halibut, second in Alaska behind Homer’s 4.434 million pounds.

Rep. Alan Austerman, Kodiak’s member of the Alaska House, was at the Thursday meeting and said it was a good opportunity to hear the viewpoints of multiple sides.

“I was hoping that we wouldn’t do any kind of knee-jerk reaction as a state committee on a federal issue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an issue we as a state should be involved in at this time.”

Austerman said that’s not because the state doesn’t have a stake in the matter. It’s because the state has limited authority in what is a federal issue.

The halibut plan being discussed falls under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Committee chairman Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, agreed. In a statement, he said, “Although the State of Alaska does not have management authority, it is important for legislators and the public to understand the impact the CSP will have on the fisheries, local economies and the future of the resource.”

Federal authorities appear to be reacting to the uproar from charter anglers in Southcentral Alaska who will be affected by the tighter restrictions. After U.S. Sen Mark Begich held a joint meeting with NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco in Homer, NOAA announced it is extending its public comment period on the proposed change in regulations.

The change was announced simultaneously with the meeting in Anchorage. The public comment period will now end Sept. 21 instead of Sept. 6.

For more information about how to submit public comments, visit http://bit.ly/halibutcomm.

In addition to hearing discussion on the issue, members of the House committee floated a few ideas on how the state can respond, Austerman said.

“I think some of the guys are interested in possibly doing an independent state-funded study on the economics,” he said. “Also there was some interest in how we as a state could promote more scientific information in regards to what it means to have a large fish versus the smaller … fish size limits in Southeast.”

Alaska provides much of the scientific information used by the halibut commission, and questions posed by the House committee to federal representatives were focused on how the state can provide economic information about the potential effects of the halibut changes.

Rep. Craig Johnson, vice-chairman of the committee and a Republican from Anchorage, said, “We’re talking about money. What we’re talking about is allocating dollars. … (Charter fishermen have) borrowed money, built lodges and now we have this. Are we looking at an economic disaster that may be crashing down on them?”

Austerman looked at it from the other side.

“Is it right for fishermen who invested in an IFQ, mortgaged their house and so forth to give up some of their IFQ so a charter business can expand?” he asked.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.
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