Council to review state of rules for unguided halibut anglers

  • The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will review the current rules for unguided halibut anglers at its upcoming meeting in Anchorage. Looser harvest rules for unguided versus guided anglers have raised concerns that pressure on the stock is growing as people shift to renting boats rather than hiring a guide. (Photo/Michael Dinneen/For the Journal)

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council may consider more registration requirements for motorized rental boats for halibut fishing, though a staff report concluded it will put more burden on either the federal or state government to do so.

At its upcoming meeting from Oct. 1-9 in Anchorage, the council is set to review a discussion paper on further registration requirements for boats available for rental to unguided halibut anglers in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska, known by the International Pacific Halibut Commission as regulation areas 3A and 2C, respectively.

In recent years, some have raised concerns that as guided fishermen are restricted to one halibut per day, some turn to self-guided rentals for fishing, where fishermen are allowed to keep two halibut of any size per day.

In December 2017, the council members requested further analysis of possible registration for motorized rental halibut fishing boats. That paper, scheduled for the upcoming meeting, notes that there are already multiple registration programs in place for vessels.

“The Council’s request included a purpose and need statement that proposed that differences in harvest regulations between guided and unguided anglers, and the presumed growth of the rental boat segment of the unguided sector, may negatively impact other halibut fishing sectors,” the paper states.

The state requires vessel registration through the Division of Motor Vehicles for all motorized boats used in state waters, and the U.S. Coast Guard requires it for vessels greater than five net tons. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has an additional registration requirement for sportfish guiding vessels, denoted by an oval sticker on the vessels each year.

Specifically for halibut, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires all halibut charter vessels fishing in areas 3A and 2C to have a valid Charter Halibut Permit, or CHP, the paper states.

Despite the concerns from the charter sector about unguided harvest increasing, records show that sport halibut harvest has remained flat or declined in both areas in the past decade.

Harvest in all sectors began falling in 2006 until about 2014, when it began to rise slightly, according to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Total harvest in 2017 was slightly up from 2016, with about 42.8 million pounds total landed, 7.9 million of which were harvested by recreational fishermen.

However, the portion of those fish being harvested by guided anglers dropped, with more of the harvest going to unguided anglers, according to the discussion paper.

“In area 2C, the guided harvest declined while the unguided harvest, although variable, remained near 1 million pounds from 2003-2016,” the paper states. “In 2011, the proportion of halibut caught by unguided anglers in area 2C exceeded the proportion caught by guided anglers for the first time. This may explain the perception that unguided catch is increasing despite the overall stability shown in catch data.”

Catches by both guided and unguided anglers fell in area 3A from 2003-2016, with the majority of the fish — about 60 percent — still going to guided anglers, according to the paper.

The state DMV has 249 rental vessels registered by 47 businesses in Southcentral and Southeast, which council staff feels is fairly accurate, according to the paper. Any further registration requirement would likely create more work for the state and National Marine Fisheries Service as well as require state cooperation, the paper states.

The recent decline in halibut stocks has led to additional restrictions on both the commercial and charter fleets, with charter fishermen losing additional fishing days and experiencing more size restrictions over the years. The looser limits on unguided fishermen have led to strain among user groups.

In a comment submitted to the council, Kent Huff —a member of the council’s Halibut Management Committee and owner of Gustavus-based Glacier Bay Eagle’s Nest Lodge — noted that a single limit for unguided and guided halibut fishermen would equalize harvest pressure.

“The future of halibut fishing in Alaska is moving to the self-guided sector as more and more fishermen choose the option to catch two fish of any size verses one fish in a reverse slot limit,” he noted in his comment. “This will only continue to increase the number of self-guided operations and the overall number of halibut harvested each year. I believe that the only way to reduce the increasing pressure on the resource is to have the same limit for all halibut fishermen (charter and boat rental) in Alaska.”

The council will meet at the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage from Oct. 1-9. Comments are open until Sept. 28 at noon.

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Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
09/26/2018 - 10:51am

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