NPFMC rules on mixing guided, unguided halibut

Council supports applying guided sport fishing limits to unguided catch mixed with guided harvest

Halibut harvested using guide services that is possessed with halibut not using guide services would be subject to guided sport fishing limits in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska under action approved by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The federal fisheries managers, holding their spring meeting at the Anchorage Hilton, also approved on April 5 implementation of an annual registration process for transferable and non-transferable charter halibut permits.

Both actions are subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and likely won’t be implemented at least until 2019.

Under current regulations, unguided sport fishermen may harvest halibut of any size without restriction and they are not subject to annual catch limits. Guided fishermen, by comparison, are subject to restrictions on their daily bag limit, size, daily closures and annual catch limits.

The council’s enforcement committee, in June 2016, was asked to develop a discussion paper on the mixing of guided and unguided halibut on the same vessel, and after reviewing that paper presented in February 2017, the council initiated an analysis for limiting the mixing of guided and unguided halibut on the same vessel, with three possible alternatives, including no action. Last October the council selected as its preliminary preferred alternative applying International Pacific Halibut Commission annual management measures for guided sport fishing for the area the halibut as harvested to apply to all halibut onboard.

The Halibut Coalition, which represents 13 commercial fishing entities, submitted testimony in support of the action taken, as did the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance and Cordova District Fishermen United, as a means of ensuring a proper count of the catch.

The Alaska Charter Association, representing over 200 vessels that guide recreational anglers, offered testimony in favor of no action.

On the issue of annual registration for charter halibut permits, the Halibut Coalition lent its support to such registration, saying it would add to the integrity and transparency of the management program and facilitate enforcement by the U.S. Coast Guard, National Marine Fisheries Service and Alaska Wildlife Troopers.

“There is considerable uncertainty regarding the usage of non-transferable permits and the annual renewal process is needed to restore the credibility of the program,” said Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition, in written testimony.

Jim Martin, executive director of the Alaska Charter Association, testified that the ACA found merit in updating charter halibut permit ownership and contact information, but said that gathering information on how permit holders intend to use the permit, and financial relationships went beyond the intended purpose of a limited access program.

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.