NPFMC progresses with halibut issues

Eyak Traditional Tribal Council renews effort for allocation of IFQ

Federal fisheries managers took additional steps at their October meeting on halibut issues ranging from leasing of individual fishery shares to prohibited species catch limits, and a review of the halibut/sablefish IFQ program.

None of these issues, which were in the early stage of consideration, are on draft agendas for upcoming council meetings Dec. 6-14 in Anchorage or Jan. 30-Feb. 7 in Seattle, although final action on two other halibut issues is anticipated in December.

They are charter halibut management measures and the charter halibut recreational quota entry program.

On the matter of IFQ leasing of quota shares, which was up for an initial review, the council expanded its suite of options for proposed action to allow leasing of halibut IFQ to community development quota groups in low abundance years.

The approved revisions would, however, have to be incorporated into another initial review draft analysis at a future meeting.

The council’s preferred alternative on leasing would allow CDQ groups to lease halibut IFQ in areas 4B, 4C and 4D in regulatory areas 4B and 4CDE. Any IFQ transferred to a CDQ group under this provision would be added to their available halibut CDQ, intended for use by residents with a halibut CDQ permit and a CDQ hired master permit.  No vessel over 51 feet would be eligible to harvest the leased IFQ and vessels would have to comply with IFQ use restrictions.

Within that alternative the motion included six options regarding the threshold for designating a year of low halibut catch limit to who would be entitled to lease halibut in this situation for area 4B.

After hearing a discussion paper and public testimony on proposed Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands abundance based halibut PSC limits, the council passed a motion confirming objectives for establishing abundance based halibut PSC limits as outlined in the discussion paper were consistent with the council intent.  The motion requested that the work group use those objectives to develop a suite of abundance-based indices and associated control rule options.

The council also clarified that stability in annual PSC limits is an objective of this action and should be include in the development of abundance indices and associated control rules.

The council directed an inter-agency workgroup on halibut PSC limits to several tasks, including development of abundance indices and associated controls rules together and to evaluate developing separate control rules for the hook and line and trawl fisheries that could be used to establish PSC limits.

The council also directed the IFQ committee to evaluate several issues and provide recommendations to the council on potential future revisions to the IFQ program.

These include the impacts of quota share loss on Alaska’s rural communities and the geographic distribution of quota ownership.  The council also asked the IRQ committee to define rural communities by several population sizes to better understand how population dynamics have resulted in different outcomes for rural community IFQ participation. This could also include examining the impacts on Alaska communities by region, the council said in its motion.

The council further instructed the IFQ committee to look at the geographic distribution of new entrant quota ownership, the use of hired masters in the IFQ fisheries and whether the IFQ committee should bring forward any further concerns they find in the document.

Among the public comments that the council received regarding its review of the halibut/sablefish IFQ program was a lengthy letter from Darrel Olsen, chairman of the Native Village of Eyak’s Traditional Tribal Council.

While the tribe’s traditional fishing rights have never been extinguished, the tribe has spent many years litigating challenges to those rights, Olsen said.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster desecrated fisheries in area and resulted in a massive decline in the tribal fishing economy, and the tribal fishing economy continues to struggle due to the additional strain put on it by the IFQ program, Olson said. As the tribe was not taken into consideration during the initial IFQ distribution, many tribal fishermen were unable to individually qualify for IFQs, he said.  In order to qualify, applicants had to have had documentation showing harvest of halibut or sablefish from a vessel during the qualifying years of 1988, 1989 and 1990.

Olsen asked the council to acknowledge tribal rights and convey a reasonable number of IFQ shares to allow the tribal body the same recognition as sport fishermen and non-tribal commercial enterprises.

In a separate letter, Olsen provided the tribal council’s proposal for the number of shares and means of distribution, along with background information and reviews of the tribe’s various litigations asserting these traditional fishing rights.

The council heard no oral testimony on behalf of the tribal council during the meeting and took no specific action on that testimony.