NOAA proposes halibut reallocation program

RQE would be allowed to hold those quota shares indefinitely

A proposed rule filed with the Federal Register would authorize formation of a recreational quota entity that could purchase and hold commercial halibut quota shares for use by charter anglers in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

The proposed regulatory amendment, recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, would allow one non-profit RQE to acquire a limited amount of commercial halibut quota shares under a willing buyer-willing seller model. Harvest pounds associated with the quota shares would become recreational fishing quota that could be used to raise the amount of halibut available for harvest by the charter halibut fishery every year under the halibut catch sharing plan, NOAA officials said Oct. 2.

Restrictions on charter anglers have become more stringent in recent years as the halibut abundance has dropped and catch limited reduced. Typical restrictions include daily and annual limits on the number of fish retained, fish size limits and closures on specific days of the week.

Should the recreational quota entity acquire enough quota share, NOAA said, restrictions on halibut size and bag limits could be relaxed for charter customers in years of low abundance, up to a point where those anglers could potentially retain up to the daily limit for unguided anglers — currently two fish of any size every day.

The proposed rule would implement quota share purchase restrictions that vary by regulatory area.

In Southeast Alaska, Area 2C, the RQE would be limited to purchase of no more than 1 percent of the commercial quota shares for that area. In Southcentral Alaska, Area 3A, the annual limit of commercial quota share purchases would be 1.2 percent, with an upper limit of 12 percent of the total quota shares for the area.

The RQE would be allowed to hold those quota shares indefinitely. The RQE also would be allowed to transfer those shares back to the commercial halibut sector, a provision that NOAA said would add flexibility to the program and contribute to the market-based approach of the program.

Publication in the Federal Register opens the proposed rule to a 45-day public comment period.

Comments may be submitted electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail:D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0158, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. By mail, submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, assistant regional administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.