Council acts on guide loophole, grenadiers; open seat debated

SEATTLE – Halibut guides and grenadiers will see management changes in coming years under action taken at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s February meeting.

The council took final action to define a sportfishing guide at its February meeting, but a new regulation likely won’t be implemented until the 2015 fishing season, at the earliest.

Grenadiers were added to the fishery management plans as an ecosystem component in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Gulf of Alaska, which means catch reporting will be required and retention will be limited — also likely not until 2015. Grenadiers are a long-lived, deepwater flatfish that grow to less than a foot long.

The council’s Feb. 6 action on guides more closely aligns the state and federal definitions.

Under the new definition, a sport fishing guide does not have to be on board the same vessel as the person they are assisting, but must accompany or physically direct the angler during part of the charter trip for compensation.

That means that anglers on one boat, receiving assistance from a guide on another boat, could be counted as charter clients — and are subject to charter regulations, rather than the more liberal unguided angler limits.

This summer, unguided anglers will be able to catch two halibut of any size per day, while charter clients can catch two with one limited to 29 inches or less when fishing out of Southcentral and Kodiak ports, and one fish either less than 45 inches or longer than 76 inches per day when fishing out of Southeast Alaska ports.

The action also defined compensation within the context of sport fishing guide services as direct or indirect payment, remuneration or other benefits received in return for services.

The federal and state definitions do have one difference, however. The state specifies that reimbursement for actual daily expenses for fuel, food or bait are not considered compensation, while the federal definition terms it “reasonable” daily expenses for those same items.

That passed in a 9-2 vote, with Oregon’s Roy Hyder and Alaska’s David Long voting against it.

Prior to taking action, the council heard from charter operators about some potential issues that could arise under the changed regulation.

One concern is that it will result in additional catch being marked as coming from the charter sector, and lead to a higher estimate of charter catches for a particular year, possibly resulting in lower bag limits in subsequent years.

Mark Warner, who runs a lodge in Excursion Inlet near Gustavus, and Tom Ohaus, a Sitka operator, also warned the council that the action could hurt some operators with a long history of using that business model who don’t have halibut charter permits.

During public testimony, representatives from the charter industry also said they would like to see the unguided angler limits match the guided angler limits, because that was the source of the loophole the council was trying to close by clarifying the definition of a guide.

Reached after the decision was made, however, Sherri Miller from the Seward business Miller’s Landing, said she supported the council’s action.

“For us, we would side on the rules that they just made up,” Miller said.

She said holding everyone to the same standards is fair, and that the prior regulation left room for a loophole that some operators used, potentially disadvantaging those who didn’t take advantage of it.

Miller’s Landing offers charters, and also rents small skiffs to individuals wanting to go out on their own. The outfit doesn’t offer assistance to those in the skiffs, however, and is not part of the fleet affected by the decision.

Miller said she didn’t know of any operators in Seward that would be affected by the action. Miller’s business also has a small amount of commercial individual fishing quota for halibut, she said.

Although she supported the most recent change, she said she was still concerned about the council’s prior action to stop captain and crew from fishing while chartering, which is part of the new catch sharing plan set to take effect this year.

Grenadiers added to management plans

The council also took final action to add three species of grenadiers — the giant grenadier, popeye grenadier and pacific grenadier — to the management plans.

Under the council’s action, the grenadiers will be managed as an ecosystem component in the fishery management plans, or FMP, which apply in federal waters, or from 3 to 200 miles offshore.

Directed fishing for grenadiers will be prohibited, and vessels will be required to keep a record of the grenadiers they land and report those numbers.

The council also set a maximum retainable amount, or MRA, of 8 percent after hearing from members of the fishing industry that they would like more than the 5 percent recommended by the council’s Advisory Panel.

Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association President Bob Krueger asked for a 10 percent MRA. Krueger said that fleet would like a high enough MRA to allow for future grenadier deliveries if a market for them is ever developed.

Julie Bonney, from the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, said that for some trawl vessels, it’s hard to know you’ve caught grenadiers until they come on board, so an MRA that allowed for some variance in catch would be helpful.

Oceana’s Jon Warrenchuck said he had concerns about not managing the fish — they are at somewhat of a risk for overfishing because of their lifecycle, and some years more grenadiers are caught than sablefish — and he was in favor of adding them to the FMP.

Previously, there has not been a market for grenadiers, but they are caught indirectly in the deepwater trawl and hook-and-line fisheries, and sometimes kept for bait.

According to estimates provided to the council, the total grenadier catch in the Gulf and Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands in 2013 was 15,353 metric tons. Since 2003, the catch has ranged from 11,034 metric tons to 17,500 metric tons. In the Aleutian Islands, the fish are primarily caught while targeting sablefish; in the Bering Sea, the highest incidental catch rate comes from

Council nominees

The Seattle meeting was council Chair Eric Olson’s final out-of-state meeting. Olson has two more meetings on the council, and finishes his term in August. Council members are limited to three, three-year terms.

Olson sits in one of five seats that the governor of Alaska is responsible for nominating someone to fill. He works for Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, a Community Development Quota entity.

According to Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell’s office, there are three applicants to fill the upcoming vacancy: Simon Kinneen, Art Nelson and Anne Vanderhoeven.

Kinneen works for Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., and Vanderhoeven works for the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., both CDQs.

Nelson works for the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, a nonprofit, and has previously been employed by Coastal Villages Region Fund,  also a CDQ.

Vanderhoven currently serves on the council’s Advisory Panel, and Kinneen has previously served on that body. Nelson has served on the council’s Steller Sea Lion Mitigation Committee, and is a former member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

During public comment before the council began the staff tasking portion of its agenda, Kawerak Inc. Vice President of Natural Resources Rose Fosdick said her organization would like to see a Tribal representative on the council.

Council member Duncan Fields asked Fosdick if her organization would consider Kinneen a tribal representative for her area.

Fosdick said Kinneen works for NSEDC, the local CDQ, which is “not necessarily a Tribal representative.”

Instead, she suggested contacting Kawerak’s president for suggestions.

“We can move forward from there and give you some good ideas about Tribal rep,” she said.

Fosdick and Kawerak are not the only ones asking for tribal representation. Other organizations, such as the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Association of Village Council Presidents, have asked for a Tribal seat.

Rep. Don Young told the Journal in a Jan. 23 interview he would like to add another seat to the council for a subsistence representative, and specifically added that he did not consider the CDQ seat to be the same as a subsistence representative.

AVCP’s Myron Naneng said he supported Young’s request for the subsistence seat.

According to information on the state’s website, Parnell is expected to make three nominations for the seat by March 15.

11/15/2016 - 4:24pm