Gulf bycatch protections bomb, new rules for halibut
December 20, 2016
This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Gulf bycatch protections bomb and a big change for halibut fishermen. That’s up after this –
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Plans to craft a program to reduce bycatch of halibut and Chinook salmon by Gulf of Alaska trawlers were tabled last week by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The program, under discussion for more than six years, would have included up to 25 different fish species in the Western, Central and West Yakutat regions in a patchwork of catch share options. But this year it unraveled amidst a political fire storm with little agreement among fishing factions.
Fish and Game commissioner Sam Cotten made the motion to table the plan, saying intense divisions among fishermen and community members gave him little choice. Trawlers, who are shut down when they reach bycatch caps, for years have pushed for a catch share system to slow the race for fish. Others claim it would consolidate groundfish quotas into the hands of better capitalized fishermen with larger boats. The program will likely remain dormant until a new commissioner take office.
Another contentious fish issue the Council passed will let recreational halibut fishermen buy commercial quota under a so called Recreational Quota Entity plan. It’s separate from an existing program that lets sport guides lease, but not buy, halibut quota. An RQE can buy commercial quota that’s held in a common pool for charter operators to draw from as needed.
Linda Behnken of the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association said creating an RQE as a non-profit to purchase and hold commercial halibut quota shares gives the charter sector priority over subsistence, sport and commercial fishermen.
Longtime fishery advocate Clem Tillion of Homer called RQEs “the death of the small boat fishery,” claiming large cruise lines will buy the quota and hired hands will fish it. But supporters claim the new program will provide a market-based approach for sellers and buyers “to bypass deadlocks common in allocation issues.”
The RQE, which will be phased in over a decade, can hold 10 percent of the total commercial quota in Southeast Alaska, and 12 percent in the Central Gulf, making it the single largest halibut-holding entity in the North Pacific.
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