Kauffman resigns from IPHC after fishing violation leads to $49K fine

Jeff Kauffman resigned as the Alaska resident member of the International Pacific Halibut Commission on June 22, shortly after he and two fellow fishermen agreed to a $49,000 fine for harvesting more than 10,000 pounds of halibut over their combined quota limit in June 2012.

The settlement the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement was nearly $13,000 less than the original Notice of Violation and Assessment of $61,781 issued on March 1 of this year.

Kauffman, who is the vice president of the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, or CBSFA, and a member of the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, did not respond to a request for comment.

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, will replace him as interim commissioner, NOAA Fisheries announced June 22.

"During his short tenure as commissioner, Mr. Kauffman has well served the U.S. interests on the IPHC, and we thank him for his service," said Jim Balsiger in the announcement from NOAA Fisheries.

Balsiger is the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Administrator and is married to Heather McCarty, who works as a lobbyist for Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association. Balsiger is also the federal member of the IPHC that manages North Pacific halibut harvests between the U.S. and Canada. Each nation has three seats on the commission.

Neither Kauffman or McCarty were present at the June meeting of the North Pacific council in Kodiak. McCarty also represents the City and Borough of Kodiak on fisheries matters.

CBSFA is the Community Development Quota group, or CDQ group, for the island of St. Paul. CDQ groups — six organizations representing 65 Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast — receive 10.7 percent of the total Bering Sea groundfish quota annually.

CBSFA owns 100 percent of the F/V Saint Peter, which Kauffman was aboard on or around June 5, 2012, with Mike Baldwin, CBSFA’s board director, and Wade Henley.

The violation occurred in 2012, but the NOAA Office of General Counsel did not file charges until March 1, 2016, following an investigative report from the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement. It was not immediately clear why the violation nearly four years ago was just now coming to light.

“On or about June 5, 2012,” the charging document reads, “Wade Henley, the operator of the F/V Saint Peter, and Jeff Kauffman and Mike Baldwin, members of the crew and Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) permit holders, acting for themselves and on behalf of Saint Peter, LLC, owner of said vessel, did retain halibut in Regulatory Area 4A in an amount that exceeded the total amount of unharvested IFQ currently held by all IFQ permit holders aboard the vessel for the regulatory area in which the vessel was deploying fixed gear, to wit: they retained about 24,600 lbs. of Halibut in Area 4A and held only about 14,085 lbs. of Area 4A IFQ.”

The original charge specified a penalty of $61,781 for the violation, but the group settled out of court for $49,000.

IPHC appointment

Kauffman’s was named an interim commissioner to the IPHC in December 2015, replacing Don Lane of Homer.

Under a bilateral treaty, the IPHC sets the quota for both U.S. and Canadian halibut fishermen. Bob Alverson of Seattle is the non-Alaska resident member of the U.S. delegation.

In a letter to the nominees in December 2015, Balsiger clarified that official presidential appointments are hard to predict.

"The presidential appointments will be pursued for both of you,” Balsiger said, “but that timeline is difficult to anticipate in the present politics of Washington D.C.”

The present politics were evidently unfavorable to a speedy appointment. The president had not confirmed Kauffman’s interim appointment as of his resignation from the position.

Kauffman’s commissionership coincided with an increase in all but one regulatory area’s quota limits at the commission’s 2016 meeting in January. In total, the commission set the overall halibut harvest for the 2016 season at 29.89 million pounds, a 2.3 percent increase from 2015.

This is also an increase from the catch limits recommended at the commission’s 2015 meeting, called the “blue line” limits. The 2016 limits exceeded the blue line by more than 3 million pounds.

Each area either received an increase in quota or an equal amount to the 2015 season, except Area 3A, the Central Gulf of Alaska. Each area’s 2016 harvest exceeded the blue line harvest limit.

Officials including the Secretary of Commerce had asked the commission to set quota at a bare minimum of 1.285 million pounds for the Central Bering Sea regulatory area adjacent to the island of St. Paul, which it did in 2015. The quota rose again in 2016. 

CBSFA and the 2015 Halibut Wars

Halibut monopolized the North Pacific council’s entire year in 2015, with CBSFA driving much of the discussion.

Harvestable halibut stocks dropped sharply in the last decade, thought numbers have improved recently. In 2004, the coastwide Pacific halibut catch limit was 76.5 million pounds. By 2014, that had been cut 64 percent to 27.5 million pounds. Simply put, the halibut pie is smaller than before, and the directed fishery only gets a small piece. In 2014, over two-thirds of halibut removals were bycatch, not directed removals.

Central Bering Sea fishermen made the case that their situation was the most dire, as employment options on the island are extremely limited to fishing.

The trawl industry fishing Bering Sea groundfish has had a relatively stable bycatch limit for 20 years. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council governs bycatch while the International Pacific Halibut Commission governs the directed fishery quota. The two bodies haven’t coordinated the halibut biomass decline to work on the same system.

The six Alaska member of the North Pacific council asked the Department of Commerce to make an emergency 33 percent cut to the Bering Sea bycatch quota. The Department of Commerce then asked the IPHC to parcel more than recommended to the Central Bering Sea fishermen. The commission agreed and set the Central Bering Sea harvest limit at 1.285 million pounds of halibut. CBSFA specified this amount as the minimum needed to survive.

At its June 2015 meeting, the North Pacific council took a further step and slashed the Bering Sea and Aleutians Islands trawl fleet’s bycatch limits by 25 percent, which was too much for trawlers and too little for CBSFA.

Following the vote, CBSFA scoffed at the council’s motion and board chairman Myron Melovidov said, “We got screwed.”

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

06/23/2016 - 8:59am