Fishing charters ask for modified regulations during COVID-19 pandemic

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is holding a special meeting Friday[2] to consider requests to modify individual fishing quota[3] (IFQ) provisions for halibut and sablefish and to tweak some management measures[4] for halibut charters in areas 2C (Southeast) and 3A (Southcentral).

In area 2C, the proposal is to increase the size of halibut allowed to be caught from 40 inches or less to 45 inches or less. This change would only be put in place when the state lifts its 14-day quarantine requirement. The proposal for area 3A is to have a two-fish bag limit with no size restrictions on either halibut, to eliminate the annual limit and to allow fishing on all days of the week with no off-limit days. The proposal for 3A would go into effect upon final approval, but only last until the travel restrictions are lifted by the state. Then, the rules for 3A would revert back to what they were before.

These changes are being asked for by charter fishing stakeholders. Martin said they’re being requested in order to incentivize Alaska residents to book charters this summer in order to make up for lost business. Outside tourists make up about 90% of local charter business, Martin said. In recent years it just hasn’t been worth it for residents, he said.

Another proposal being made to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is that there be a mechanism established to roll over any unused 2020 charter allocation in areas 2C and 3A to supplement 2021
catch limits.

According to documents for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting, the International Pacific Halibut Commission recommended at their 2020 meeting that the combined catch limit for the commercial and charter halibut fisheries to be about 9 million pounds for area 3A. The charter fishery was allocated about 1.7 million pounds of that, according to the meeting document.

Martin said the changes in fishery management are being requested in part because stakeholders are not worried about going over that number.

“We feel like we’re not going to come even close to our allocation,” he said.

Martin said some of the requests in the proposals are set to sunset as soon at the state lifts its travel restrictions in order to make sure the charter fishing fleet does not go over its allocation. If travel and tourism go a little more back to normal, Martin said, charters need to go back to the status quo regulations. If things are too liberalized, that’s when they risk going over their allocation, he said.

Members of the Homer City Council at its meeting on Monday voted to pass a resolution supporting the changes being proposed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“We went from 50% Alaska resident clientele, and then once we had these very restrictive regulations, that 50% Alaska resident kind of dropped down,” Martin told the city council during the Monday meeting.

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