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North Pacific Council Opens Reallocation Issue For Halibut Charter vs Commercial Fishermen in Alaska
By Peggy Parker, SeafoodNews.com
February 9, 2022
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council took action yesterday that reopens the specter of “uncompensated reallocation” from commercial fishermen to charter operators in Alaska. The Council adopted a Purpose and Needs Statement to analyze a revision in the halibut Catch Sharing Plan (CSP) that would increase the halibut charter sector allocation by taking from the halibut longline fleet without compensation.
The possibility of that triggered strong testimony from both charter operators and halibut fishermen — over 130 written comments and 70 public testimonies, the majority of which were opposed to any notion of uncompensated reallocation. The commercial sector, many of whom had helped create the CSP a decade ago, made the case that the CSP is working as planned. Charter fishermen countered that their business models don’t work under these continued low levels of halibut abundance. Charter operators in Area 2C are constrained from allowing their clients to catch two halibut a day. Area 3A charter operators can offer two halibut, but are under size restrictions as well.
Low levels of halibut abundance impact all stakeholders, and commercial skippers pointed out that their investment in quota shares over the years has lost value as abundance declines but the loan payments are still due.
“In 2012 the Council committed that the Catch Share Plan ended 20 years of uncompensated reallocation of commercial quota to the charter sector and included a one way market-based mechanism to allow charter operators to increase harvesting opportunities for the clients by leasing quota,” said Linda Behnken, long-term advocate for Alaska’s small boat fishermen.
“Evidently paying for quota is an obstacle for charter operators; they prefer to take it and the Council just legitimized that approach by scheduling this analysis,” she said.
When the CSP was adopted, it gave charter operators 125% of their historic catch, taking the 25% from the commercial catch in Areas 2C and 3A. The extra share was agreed to by both sides to accommodate the growing charter industry and to share the burden of conservation between both sectors.
The Council took up an allocation review of the CSP this week after the Advisory Panel (AP) struggled with the issue last week. There, a motion for uncompensated reallocation failed, but a second motion recommending that the Council look at remedies related to the process of managing the catch limit rather than any changes in allocation, passed.
Council member Andy Mezirow’s motion was discussed for hours after public testimony from more than 70 stakeholders (most of it in opposition to uncompensated reallocation). The motion was amended to meet requirements of a purpose and need statement and to reflect the Council’s preference for compensated reallocation in the form of a Recreational Quota Entity (RQE) that would include a fee mechanism for anglers to pay for halibut quota needed by the operators, before it passed by a vote of 8-3.
“We are deeply disappointed by this action, and by the focus of the motion on relieving stress in the charter sector while remaining virtually silent on existing impacts to the commercial sector. While we urge a calm response, please focus your concern in messages to the Governor, since the State of Alaska supported the reallocation alternatives, and be prepared to turn out to testify when the issue comes back before the Council next fall,” said Marc Carrell of Cordova District Fishermen United. Carrell, a resident of Cordova, is a longtime halibut fisherman in Area 3A.
The RQE’s funding mechanism is in legislation that is currently in the House of Representatives after being passed in the Senate. It is part of a much larger bill and whether it will survive the House process is a deeply debated issue. Meanwhile, the current CSP includes a program that allows charter operators to lease commercial quota if they’d like to offer their clients more fish. That program requires a lease payment based on the current ex-vessel price for halibut and the average size of charter-caught halibut in that area the year before. It is leased on a per-fish basis and charter operators who use it pass the cost along to their clients. Many commercial quota share holders who participate in the program — called the Guided Angler Fish or GAF — offer payment terms to their charter operator customers throughout the year.
Mezirow’s motion did not reflect any part of the AP’s recommendation to look at other remedies, but it increased the range of uncompensated reallocation to analyze in 3A from 0-3% to 0-5% of the combined catch limits at lower levels of abundance, with a decrease of 1%-3% at higher levels of abundance.
According to statements on the record, the Council opened this extremely sensitive issue to gain increased understanding of the ‘nuance’ of reallocation not explicitly described in the current analysis.
Council member Cora Campbell argued that “no new data will emerge to change what we know today” and the action will have “significant human cost” in Alaska’s fishing communities, urging her fellow council members not to open up uncompensated reallocation again.
Her comments were echoed by Council members John Jensen and Kenny Down, who joined Campbell in opposing Mezirow’s motion.
The Halibut Coalition, a group of fishermen and processors formed in 2005 to address charter issue nearly two decades ago, released a statement this morning in appreciation for the three Council members who “upheld the Council’s previous commitment to ending uncompensated reallocation.”
The Halibut Coalition said they will continue to work to uphold that commitment.