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Charter boats and halibut.

Many visitors and residents fish for halibut via charter boats. But regulations may soon change the way halibut is harvested on such boats.

There are four kinds of Hippoglossus stenolepis (Pacific halibut) fisheries in Alaska commercial, guided, non-guided and subsistence. They are all governed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which grants the general regulatory and management authority to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which, in turn, works co-jointly with the Alaska Board of Fish and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to implement those regulations and management measures. It is a long gauntlet and varies widely according to the type of fishing.

For those who sport fish, there are two basic options: (a) use your own boat, (b) charter a boat. In 1998, the charter boat industry in Alaska, as tallied by a new mandatory logbook system, caught 50 percent of the estimated 7.36 million pounds of sports-caught halibut. This means that about half of us prefer a charter boat to help us catch our halibut. (Unless we buy halibut, which is also a good option since our commercial harvest fleet caught 58 million pounds in 1998.)

Why are these figures important? Because they are the center of a controversy that has been plaguing the council since 1993. The council is wrestling with the concept of halibut charter boats as commercial enterprises and whether or not they have an "unmanaged growth" that is conflicting with the commercial IFQ (individual fishing quota) system and with wise use of the resource.

Is the halibut charter boat industry a commercial enterprise?

Yes and no. Charter boats, boats for hire, allow residents and visitors to more easily and safely fish. But it is the client who has the fishing license and the client who makes the harvest. And not all charter situations are alike. In fact, they vary so much that this has created a problem for potential management. The vast majority are in the fleet that operates within Southcentral Alaska-primarily Cook Inlet, Kachemak Bay and Valdez. The rest of the boats are scattered from Kodiak to Dutch Harbor to Ketchikan, either as independent day-charter combo boats (combination of halibut and salmon) or as charters tied to a lodge operation. Some boats fish exclusively for halibut, others fish halibut as part of a packaged deal.

Some boats make daily trips 4-5 months a year, others maybe only a few days each season. Even if charter boats are in something of a jurisdictional quasi-land and the actual sports catch total harvest has not varied much since 1994, the potential for resource conflict in less abundant years and the concern over near-shore depletion drive the council's current actions.

Anecdotally, the near-shore halibut caught in high-density fishing areas seem to be smaller and less abundant on average. Charter boats are going farther out to find more lucrative fishing. In other places, the fishing remains stable and abundant.

This situational near-shore depletion was first noted in Sitka Sound, which subsequently developed a local area management plan to submit to the council. This was a plan worked out over a four-year period among all resource users. It is currently being used as a model for other area management plans, which are being implemented through the Board of Fish. This is a new arena for everyone that requires attention to protocols, timelines and jurisdictions.

Halibut jurisdictional areas are determined by the IPHC and are more broadly managed than other federal or state commercial or sports fisheries. IPHC areas 3A and 2C-most of the north Gulf and Southeast-are the areas of most concern to the council and the areas currently subject to potential limited entry and guideline harvest limits. We are not in any kind of critical mass-halibut stocks are considered to be quite healthy-the issue is to keep it that way.

This must be balanced with maintaining the viability and stability of the charter boat industry and providing for economic growth opportunities in under-developed areas.

There are many in the industry who feel this is a non-issue. Others want moratoriums placed on the high-density areas while people on the other end are struggling to build remote tourism opportunities in low-pressure areas.

What does any of these really mean to the average Alaskan halibut fisher? Implementations of any of the proposed regulations are bound to have some profound impacts but no one knows exactly how yet. There are too many possible options; this whole discussion has raised more questions than it has resolved. Despite the thousands of hours already spent on review, many of the sub-issues require a lot more data than is currently available. In late April, the council approved a long list of items for analysis to be presented at the October council meeting in Seattle.

If you are a halibut angler, a charter boat operator, a potential charter boat operator, a lodge owner, a potential lodge owner, connected to the tourism industry, a commercial fisherman, a subsistence user, a vendor who supplies charter boats, concerned about local economic development, or just interested in the conservation of halibut, you probably want to pay attention to this issue. The best way to do this is get information from the council and the Alaska Board of Fish and to inquire about a local area management plan that might be developing in your area.

Where to find a halibut charter boat

Sports fishing for halibut is available in almost all coastal waters of Alaska. If you have a specific area that you would like to fish, contact the local Chamber of Commerce or the Visitors and Convention Bureau for that area.

Contact information may be found on the Internet at many different locations. Here are a few suggested sites:

* Alaska Fishing Online:

* Alaska Outdoor Adventures:

* Kodiak Travel Directory: www.web

The names of charter vessels, owners and locations are also available on the Internet through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission Web site at http://www.cfec.state. Charter vessels in this listing are not identified by species that are fished.

Where to find information:

If you would like to find out more information on halibut charter boat issues, contact the following agencies. Ask for schedules for either the North Pacific Fishery Management Council or for the Alaska Board of Fish (or for associated papers) or ask the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for information about developing local area management plans. Specific information on this issue is not currently available on the Internet.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council

605 W. 4th Ave.

Anchorage, Alaska 99501

Phone: 907-271-2809

Attn: Jane diCosimo

Alaska Department of Fish & Game Sports Fish Division

333 Raspberry Road

Anchorage, Alaska 99518-1579

Phone: 907-267-2218

Attn: Kevin Delany, director
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Title Annotation:Alaska imposes new laws on halibut fishing
Author:Vick, Gale K.
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Previous Article:Salmon: the next generation.
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