GUEST COMMENTARY: Catch Sharing Plan = Certainty, Stability and Predictability


Heath Hilyard, the executive director of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization, is right. The halibut catch sharing plan, or CSP, isn’t about conservation. It’s about managing the charter halibut resource responsibly so businesses can operate with more certainty. In fact, the plan was supported by the charter sector many times throughout the years for that precise reason. Why the hue and cry now? They want more fish.

Who can blame them? They were rewarded for exceeding their annual catch limit five years in a row in Southeast Alaska by being granted those extra fish as “historical catch.” Twice the plan approached a final rule and twice the charter sector derailed it, forcing the council to start over. Each time the charter sector lobbied for more fish; each time they got it. The current version of the CSP gives them the highest percentage yet. Still, it seems, they want more.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has wrestled with halibut allocation since September 1993. Initial charter allocations were 125 percent of their historical catches. Catch accounting was one step up from the honor system. In 2003, a Guideline Harvest Level, or GHL, was used which — along with burgeoning industry growth — resulted in tremendous overages in Southeast. Those overages were taken out of the commercial sector’s allocation the following year.

The charter sector helped guide the council to a catch sharing plan in 2008 by preferring an allocation that floated with abundance. But they wanted guarantees of a high minimum allocation during times of low stocks, to retain the historical season length, and no in-season closures, even once their quota has been reached. The commercial sector, by contrast, stops fishing when the quota is attained.

“The halibut catch sharing plan has been developed through the collaborative effort and hard work of many people over several years, and through a transparent and robust public input process,” said Alaskan regional administrator Dr. James Balsiger. 

The council’s deliberations included applying 10 national standards required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The standards mandate consideration of more than economics, such as sustained participation of communities and other factors.

In 2009, Alaska’s seafood industry generated $4.6 billion to the state’s economy. That represents over 80,000 jobs and $1.45 billion in payments to labor and wages.

That year, Alaska’s longline fleet from Southeast to Kodiak caught $81.4 million worth of halibut. Apply the usual economic multiplier of 3.7 and the impact to coastal communities, transportation hubs like Anchorage, and backhaul revenue for air and surface transport delivering halibut to Outside and international markets, reaches $301 million.

We won’t compare the economic impact of the charter business on coastal communities except to say it’s vital. We don’t compare it because each industry has entirely different marketing triggers, metrics for success, and wildly varying options for alternative business models.

But they are alike in their natural aversion to uncertainty. Any CEO in the world will admit that topping the list of negative factors to business is uncertainty. The CSP manages uncertainty for the charter sector better than any management plan they’ve had yet.

Understanding the CSP requires careful study (for instance, see the 333-page analysis) and — most important — avoiding the BS of sound bites. As NMFS Alaska Region Administrator Dr. James Balsiger says, “We strongly encourage folks to take the time to sit down and read the actual text of the plan so they’ll have the facts before commenting.”

The council’s balanced plan serves both sectors, the state, and the resource. In the end, consumers looking for a good healthy meal and charter anglers looking for a wonderful experience will make their choices with the assurance that means coming generations will do exactly the same.

Tom Gemmell is the Executive Director of the Halibut Coalition and has lived in eight Alaska coastal and Interior communities over several decades.

Reader Comments:
Aug 8, 2013 06:59 pm
 Posted by  HeathEdward


How exactly do we catch less fish under any of the alternatives provided under the CSP and it results in more fish? That argument is nonsensical. You're suggesting that our over harvest was a willful and intentional plan to take away fish from the commercial sector by illegal and unethical fishing practices. In reality, we were simply given the wrong management measures to live within our allocation.

Since the adoption of the Charter Halibut Permit program and the establishment of the Charter Implementation Committee, industry and agency have effectively kept the charter sector within, or well below, their annual allocations. The dirty little secret you're trying to avoid is that when you combine the underages for 2C and 3A, we're actually under our allocations. Tom, be honest. . .the move from Close Area to Coastwide Assessment hurt both Commercial and Charter operators in Southeast.

As I've said, our objection to CSP has nothing to do with moving from the GHL "stair step" model to a percentage based model that floats with abundance, it has to do with the base level of allocation adopted by the Council in December 2012.

Do you challenge the correctness of AJOC's reporting when Molly Dischner wrote: "Had the percentages been in affect in 2012, the charter industry would have received a smaller allocation than the guideline harvest level, or GHL. The allocation in 2C would have been 633,000 pounds, less than the actual 2012 GHL of 931,000 pounds."?

In light of the above quote we would have been nearly 300,000 lbs. under our GHL allocation, but more importatnly 12,000 lbs. under our actual catch. It isn't about more fish, it is about enough fish to keep this sector as a meaningful economic contributor Alaska's coastal communities.

Aug 8, 2013 07:02 pm
 Posted by  HeathEdward

Also, if the issue isn't about conservation, then why the need to revise the EA/RIR from September 2012 to June 2013?

“While the alternatives would affect harvest levels and charter fishing practices, total halibut removals would not be affected as any decreases in charter harvests would result in increased commercial harvests. . . Therefore, none of the proposed alternatives is expected to significantly impact the halibut stock. . . There may be an effect on the human environment, as there are winners and losers under any sector allocation.” - September 2012

“The proposed action alternatives address resource allocation issues and promote conservation in the halibut fisheries.” - June 2013

“No significant adverse impacts on the halibut stock are identified for the any of the alternatives considered. None of the alternatives considered, including the status quo alternative, would affect overall harvest levels of halibut by all sectors, fishing practices of individuals participating in the halibut fishery, or the health of the halibut stock. . . None of the alternatives considered is expected to affect the physical environment, benthic community, marine mammals, seabirds, or non-specified groundfish species.” - June 2013

Aug 8, 2013 07:22 pm
 Posted by  HeathEdward

Also, Tom, I wish you would cease your intellectual dishonesty.

"In fact, the plan was supported by the charter sector many times throughout the years for that precise reason."

Being agreeable to a new allocation methodology, in theory, is vastly different than "supporting" the current plan being considered. In October and December 2012, the SE charter sector was open to "Alternative 5" which kept the CSP floating at a level relatively near the GHL. Just because some charter representatives were open to certain ideas 15 years ago, well before abundance was at it's current levels and we'd been hit by some draconian management measures, does not mean we somehow support a 30% reduction in allocation under today's numbers.

I'll keep it honest, if you will.

Aug 9, 2013 09:46 am
 Posted by  HeathEdward

Last point, just because something is certain, predictable and stable, doesn't mean it isn't awful. You really should pick another game, because being a spokesperson for the Halibut Coalition doesn't suit you all that well.

Aug 9, 2013 09:46 am
 Posted by  HeathEdward

Last point, just because something is certain, predictable and stable, doesn't mean it isn't awful. You really should pick another game, because being a spokesperson for the Halibut Coalition doesn't suit you all that well.

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