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Old 01-21-2009, 04:35 PM   #1
Wintu
Ifish Nate
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 3,059
Default One halibut per day in SE Alaska comments

Letter sent by the Alaska Charter Association today commenting on feds' plan to reduce sport halibut catch in SE Alaska to one fish per day.
The commecial fleet gets a huge majority of the total halibut catch, while sport fishermen are on the verge of losing even more of their meager allocation.
------

January 21, 2009

Ms. Sue Salveson
Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region
National Marine Fisheries Service
P.O. Box 21668
Juneau, AK 99802

Attention: Ellen Sebastian
COMMENT identification: “RIN 0648-AX17’’
Fax: (907) 586-7557

Dear Ms Salveson:

In response to the NMFS proposed rulemaking for recreational anglers who choose to use Alaska charter businesses to access their resource in the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s (IPHC) Area 2C, the Alaska Charter Association (ACA) offers the following comments.

The ACA is a statewide organization whose members are primarily business owners and operators that rely on recreational anglers for all or part of their livelihood. Our mission is to preserve and protect those fishing rights and resources necessary for the Alaska charter fleet to best serve the recreational fishery.

In keeping with our mission, ACA vehemently opposes the NMFS proposal to reduce the guided recreational angler’s daily catch to one fish to comply with an outdated GHL when there is absolutely no jeopardy to the sustainability of the resource.

From previous record published by NMFS, it has been stated that there could be as much as a 30 percent reduction in demand for guided recreational fishing resulting from the one fish rule. That forecast was made for good economic times. Our nation faces its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Our Alaska travel industry projects this may cause a 30% reduction in tourism. These two effects could combine to cause a 50% reduction in tourist recreational fishing demand, which will devastate our coastal communities that rely on tourism for their livelihood. The ACA strongly recommends that the Secretary postpone taking action on this matter to assure the maximum national benefit accrue from the halibut resource to combat the recession that we are in.


Our comments are made against the backdrop that the action proposed by NMFS is not a conservation measure, but is taken as an allocation measure. Who owns the fish? Who gets to catch the fish? Catching fish is a privilege, not a right. One needs a permit to catch halibut, be they recreational or commercial. These permits are revocable, and/ or are issued for a period of time. Any fish not taken by the subsistence or recreational sector will be harvested by the commercial sector. . It is well understood that dollar /pound of halibut resource arises from the resource being consumed by recreational anglers. When this is not optimized, the Nation is being deprived out of its maximum return for its resource. Consequently, any requested action taken by the NPFMC and promulgated by you, and any action taken by the IPHC to repress subsistence/recreational fishing accrues economic benefit to the commercial fishing sector, and does not benefit the halibut biomass, nor deliver the greatest return to the economies of the State of Alaska and the Nation.

If there was a conservation issue, the IPHC would not permit harvest in excess of its Constant Exploitable Yield as expanded upon below.

On your proposed rule published in Federal Register, you describe the IPHC’s effort to keep all removals within the CEY (constant exploitable yield). You state “This method of determining the commercial fishery(s catch limit in an area results in a decrease in the commercial fishery(s use of the resource as other non-commercial uses increase their proportion of the total CEY. As conservation of the halibut resource is the overarching goal of the IPHC, it attempts to include all sources of fishing mortality of halibut within the total CEY” (emphasis added). This is false-unfortunately there is overwhelming evidence that the IPHC has/is awarding millions of pounds of halibut in excess of the Area 2C CEY to the commercial longline fleet.

It would serve the NMFS well to include in the Federal Register, the IPHC’s Slow Up-Fast Down (SUFD) policy that awards millions of pounds in excess of the CEY to the commercial longline sector in times of decreasing abundance. In the last four years, through application of its SUFD policy, the IPHC has intentionally exceeded the CEY to the direct benefit of the longline fleet by 300,000 pounds in 2006, 900,000 pounds in 2007, 2.3 million pounds in 2008, and has approved another 2.21 million pounds in 2009. The total in excess of the CEY over this period exceeds 5.68 million pounds.

Your published proposed rule goes on to point out “Charter removals should be close to the GHL or the overall harvest strategy of the IPHC is undermined, creating a conservation concern and resulting in a de facto reallocation from the commercial sector”.

How can the IPHC and NMFS express a conservation concern with a charter catch exceeding a non-binding GHL by 500,000 lbs., while at the same time promote harvest by the commercial longline fleet in excess of their Fishery CEY by more than 2 million pounds? Is not the harvest in excess of the CEY by the longline fleet a defacto reallocation from the rest of the resource users, and a cause for a conservation concern? The excess harvest enjoyed by the commercial longline fleet results in a lower future CEY, which can trigger a reduction in the non-binding GHL, all to the detriment of the guided recreational angler, and possibly the sustainability of the resource.

Is there a pecking order to who gets the fish? Does a commercial halibut fisherman have more “right” (a higher privilege) to the fish than a recreational fisherman? Is the IPHC charged with making domestic allocation decisions, which they appear to do when they award harvest in excess of the CEY solely to the benefit of the domestic longline fleet, or do/should domestic allocation decisions rest with NMFS? Why is it that only the commercial sector benefits from the IPHC award of harvest in excess of the CEY?

ACA has major concerns about the fair and equitable allocation of fishing privileges. Looking at the make up of the NPFMC, is it not highly biased in favor of the commercial fishing sector? We direct your attention to your “2006 REPORT TO CONGRESS ON APPORTIONMENT OF MEMBERSHIP ON THE REGIONAL FISHERY MANAGEMENT COUNCILS” which highlights this bias. Since that report, what has been done to correct this glaring problem?

Consequently, we have to question and ask for explanation of how it is determined that a fair and equitable share of fish is being provided to the recreational charter fishermen.

The Halibut Act states “If it becomes necessary to allocate or assign halibut fishing privileges among various United States fishermen, such allocation shall be fair and equitable to all such fishermen, based upon the rights and obligations in existing Federal law, reasonably calculated to promote conservation, and carried out in such manner that no particular individual, corporation, or other entity acquires an excessive share of the halibut fishing privileges” Is not 80 percent of the halibut resource being taken by the commercial entity, an excessive share, when compared to that taken by the recreational sector? Please explain how it is fair and equitable to allow the commercial fishing sector 80 percent of the halibut resource.

Your background information stresses the fact that the primary unguided fishermen in Area 2C are residents and friends of residents, while non-resident tourists are the main clients for guided fishing on charter vessels.

Your proposed one fish rule applies only to those fishermen that use a charter vessel, hence the rule targets the non-resident tourist angler while those that use other means of access can continue to take two fish per day. This appears to be discriminatory amongst recreational fishermen. How does your proposed action comply with the Halibut Act that states “Such regulations shall only be implemented with the approval of the Secretary, shall not discriminate between residents of different States”…..?

Under your proposed action, the second bullet states “A charter vessel guide, a charter vessel operator, and crew of a charter vessel must not catch and retain halibut during a charter fishing trip”.

This management measure was applied indirectly in 2007 & in 2008 by an Emergency Order at the State level prohibiting skipper and crew from fishing for all species. The ACA supports the implementation of NMFS proposed measure in part, and hopes that the State of Alaska will not restrict guides and crew from fishing for other species.
Our support in part, deals with the total denial of guide and crew halibut fishing rights as a recreational fisherman while out fishing with paying customers. From a resource utilization perspective, the guide and crew would like to have halibut as a part of their food source, and would like to do this at minimum cost. This means that they should fish when they are out working, and not make a special trip that consumes fuel and other resources unnecessarily. In this day of rising fuel costs, concerns about wasting resources and burning excess fossil fuels, it seems logical to catch our fish in the most efficient way possible, consistent with regulations.

The ACA suggests this could be accomplished by allowing guide and crew personal use fishing, consistent with regulations, prior to May 16 and after August 15, or some other agreed upon dates outside of the busy tourist season. This would allow taking fish for summer use, then taking fish for winter use.

Total restriction of fishing by guides and crew does not achieve “minimizing the adverse impacts on the charter fishery” which was a NMFS goal in its 2008 proposed rule, or optimizing benefit to the Nation. Minimization will be achieved by allowing personal use fishing by guides and crew to eliminate the expenditure for fuel and other resources that they will unnecessarily incur while trying to put food on their tables.

The proposed rule appears to change the GHL definition from a purely advisory benchmark as envisioned in the 2003 GHL rule to an enforceable allocation.
ACA finds this to be totally irresponsible on the part of NMFS, from the perspective that it is establishing an allocation that is not fair and equitable, does not reflect the recent historic harvest by the guided recreational angler sector, is based on flawed and varying CEY determinations, and is absent proper analysis, proper public notice, public input and public review.

When it comes to establishing an appropriate allocation, one would suggest that looking at historic fishing privileges and catch to establish/estimate recreational allocation. Review of historic fishing privileges for the guided recreational angler, and actually, all recreational anglers has been two fish per day of any size for any angler who shows up and buys a fishing license, for the duration of the historic season. This is appropriate. They do own the fish as much as anyone else in the United States. The commercial sector stands ready to carry out their traditional harvest, which, historically, are all those fish remaining within the CEY that can be harvested without jeopardizing the resource.

Please be aware that the present GHL is based on data collected 10-15 years ago. The data is stale, was questionable at the time of collection, and needs to be updated. Review of the GHL reveals that it was based on the average harvest from 1995-1999, and 25 percent was added for growth. Though the 25 percent appears to be generous for growth, it was not. Evidence to substantiate this is that the GHL was exceeded the very first year that it was in effect, and more importantly, the GHL had been exceeded in 1998, a full five years in advance of it being promulgated. The benchmark is totally bogus as it relates to the actual historic guided recreational harvest.

The GHL was established as a benchmark that could only go down. It could not go up. Can you imagine the outcry (and appropriately so) if the commercial harvest could have never exceeded what was allocated in 1995, that it could only go down and never go up?

During the intervening years, the guided recreational catch has consistently exceeded the ill-conceived GHL. As recently as 2007, the catch with fish size restrictions still exceeded the maximum GHL by more than 33 percent.

The GHL is benchmarked against the IPHC’s CEY. We have witnessed the flaw in this association.

When the GHL rule was first published and became a standard for advising the Council on recreational charter fishing effort/success, the IPHC used a “closed area assessment” model to establish the CEY. The IPHC has subsequently proposed to set aside this model in favor of their new “coast wide model”. The new model results in a major shift of halibut harvest from Area 2C to westerly harvest areas. ACA believes that if the GHL is going to continue to be used as a benchmark for catch, it needs to be recomputed to align with what would have been determined using the “closed area assessment”.

ACA believes that the NMFS is proposing to change the definition without proper analysis on those that it will impact. It is proposing to make this change without properly noticing the impacted public. Specifically, the notice of this rule says it applies to Area 2C. However, it appears that the NMFS intends to apply the new GHL definition to Area 3A as well. Area 3A guided anglers has not been given notice of this action, nor have they been advised on how it will impact them.

ACA wishes to remind NMFS that first and foremost in importance is recognizing that the halibut resource is a public resource owned by the people of the United States. Restricting their right of access should only be done when the resource is in jeopardy.

Measures restricting a United States citizen from the resource accrue to the benefit of the commercial fishery and not to conservation of the resource, as the commercial industry WILL harvest the fish.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Sincerely,



Robert Howard, President
Alaska Charter Association

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