AK halibut survey regions
Credit: IPHC

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [SeafoodNews] by Peggy Parker – September 5, 2018

Both the U.S. and Canada have changed their delegation to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, naming relative newcomers to each country’s team during extremely sensitive negotiations on policy issues. For the first time, a member of the recreational sector has been appointed to the U.S. delegation.

The changes to the panel, made up of three Canadians and three U.S. residents, comes after a rare impasse in determining catch limits for the 2018 season at the IPHC’s January meeting. In the end, all six commissioners agreed to lower limits below last year’s levels, but not as a commission. It was the second time in the IPHC’s 94-year history that an impasse could not be overcome.

The commissioners also agreed to negotiate a resolution to their disagreements, which center on distribution of halibut and bycatch accountability, before the next annual meeting. They have met twice so far and will meet again in mid-September.

Six weeks ago the Canadian government “temporarily” replaced commissioners Jake Vanderheide and Ted Assu, both halibut fishermen. Robert Day and Neil Davis of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were picked as replacements until later in the year, when both are expected to step down for permanent commissioners. Day is director of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ International Fisheries Management Headquarters in Ottawa. Davis is a resource management director for the DFO based in Vancouver.

Yesterday NOAA Fisheries announced the reappointment of Bob Alverson, director of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association and the first-time appointment of Richard Yamada, the president of the Alaska Charter Association. Yamada replaced Linda Behnken, director of Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association and a commissioner for two years. Both men were appointed for five months, from September 1 to January 31, 2019.

The two men were told their terms as Alternate Commissioners ended January 31 or “whenever another Alternate or Presidentially-appointed Commissioner is appointed to fulfill the relevant duties, whichever comes first,” according to the letter each received from the State Department.

It’s unusual for appointments to be for less than 18 months — terms are for two years — but in this case, it could be that the President’s final action will define a longer term. The current timing for termination is problematic, though, as the next annual meeting of the IPHC is January 27-February 1, 2019.

A January 31 termination date cuts the five days meeting short by its last, important day. That’s when the week’s industry discussion and recommendations, scientific reporting, and U.S./Canada negotiations culminate in final catch limits and changes to Pacific halibut regulations.

Yesterday’s announcement preceded the President’s appointment, “To ensure the United States has representation on the IPHC at all times, the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 provides for the Secretary of State to make alternate appointments,” the announcement read.

Dr. Jim Balsiger, the NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator who has represented the government for nearly two decades, was reappointed through September, but may be replaced after that, according to several people familiar with the process. Both Chris Oliver, current head of NOAA Fisheries, and Doug Mecum, deputy regional administrator at NMFS’s Juneau office, have been mentioned as possible replacements.

Neither, however, are members of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, a requirement for Commissioner according to the Halibut Act.

The process, starting from the nominations from last year and months-long vetting to a last minute back and forth that has included questioning nominees on social media use and campaign finance contributions, has been fraught with delays and unexpected outcomes (few expected Dr. Balsiger to be replaced). Behnken and Alverson were appointed only months before the last nomination-and-vetting cycle began. Their terms were extended last spring to August 31, 2018.