Regulators prepare for open access scallop fishery in '14
Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission took a preparatory step for regulating an open access scallop fishery for the 2014 season when it approved a new permit structure Oct. 11.
The state’s limited access program, which is vessel-based, is set to expire Dec. 30.
Due to concerns about consolidation, the legislature last spring did not pass a bill that would have extended the program. The bill, however, could be passed this spring and apply in time for the July 1, 2014 start of the season.
Some of Alaska’s scallop beds straddle the three-mile line that divides state and federal waters, and the two areas are managed in tandem, with both operating under limited entry programs and a single harvest level.
CFEC’s new permit structure will require fishery participants to apply for separate state and federal waters interim use permits. Vessels shorter and longer than 80 feet in length will receive different permits for each area.
CFEC Chair Bruce Twomley told Alaska’s Board of Fisheries Oct. 10 that he hoped a bill would pass this spring, so that the work to prepare for an open access fishery was not necessary. If that happens, the regulations in the works now would be nullified, Twomley said.
In the meantime, regulators and managers are preparing for the open access fishery.
In addition to CFEC’s work, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, is drafting a state waters management plan, which the Board of Fisheries will discuss in January.
This is the first time the commission has been charged with taking a limited-access fishery and preparing it for open access, said CFEC Commissioner Ben Brown at the Oct. 11 CFEC meeting.
Brown and CFEC Chair Bruce Twomley approved the new permit structure at a commission meeting.
No members of the public attended the meeting. CFEC Law Specialist Doug Rickey was also present and the Journal listened telephonically to the meeting held in Juneau. Twomley said the commission sent out written notice to scallop fishery participants, but did not receive any written comments, either.
Twomley said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, pushed the commission to account for its preparations and get ready for the open-access fishery, which was helpful as it turned out to be more complicated than expected.
The fishery has a pre-season registration deadline of April 1, and Twomley said at the Board of Fisheries meeting Oct. 10 that the commission wanted to have regulations in place in November in preparation for that.
Under the new structure, federal participants will likely need to carry both the state and federal waters permits, and fill out additional fish tickets to reflect whether scallops were harvested in the state or federal waters, which could make operations more difficult for those participants.
According to CFEC, it is unknown how many vessels will participate in the state waters fishery next year.
Twomley described it as “unknown and unknowable” when he addressed the Board of Fisheries about the coming changes.
However, when the state fishery was limited, there had been about 13 different participants in the years prior to limitation, Twomley said.
Originally, there were 9 state and federal permits once the fishery was limited, but the majority are controlled by a small group of Washington-based partners. Through December 2012, only 5 federal and state permits were still active, and just two vessels operated regularly in state waters.
After the CFEC meeting Oct. 11, Twomley said the permit applications will give the state a sense of how many vessels intend to participate in the fishery and prepare to manage it accordingly, including setting appropriately permit fees.
Participants in the federal fishery will likely need to apply, and pay, for both state and federal permits, while state-only participants will only be subject to the state waters cost.
Twomley said the permit fees must reflect the expected economic return from holding a permit, and knowing the number of state waters participants will help in setting that fee.
For the federal side, the permit fee is based on the last three years of fishery values, but for the state, CFEC needs a new method for developing the fee in the first year, Twomley said. The state permit will likely be less expensive, reflecting the smaller resource available in that area, he added. About 80 percent of the scallop harvest is taken in federal waters.
The Board of Fisheries had a brief discussion of scallops when it agreed to consider ADFG’s management plan. A request to do so was submitted as an agenda change request, or ACR, at the board’s Oct. 9 and 10 work session.
The management plan will come back before the board at the January meeting in Kodiak.
Although the board will not discuss a second management plan proposed by Don Lane, of Homer, it could incorporate vessel size restrictions for the state waters fishery as part of the new management plan.
The board took no action on Lane’s ACR for a scallop management plan because it had agreed to discuss the ADFG proposal.
Limiting the state fishery to vessels less than 80 in length was one of the primary differences between the ADFG and private proposals.
Twomley said the management plan up for discussion is compatible with CFEC’s permit structure, and that the vessel length limitations would also fit into the new permit structure. As of January 2013, six of the nine vessels permitted for the fishery were longer than 80 feet.
Twomley also provided the board with a general update on the scallop fishery changes.
Although the fishery will be open access in 2014, he said the commission could look at limiting it in the future.
CFEC will watch the fishery to see how participants fare. If open access results in economic distress to the participants, it could once again be limited, Twomley told the board.
“We still have our traditional tools, and with a fresh start in the fishery we may be called upon to use them at some point in the future,” he said.
Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected].