Sport Halibut May Depend on Good Angler Cents!
by Richard Yamada, President, Alaska Charter Association
(appeared in Fish Alaska magazine, Oct.-Nov. 2016)
A proposal is coming up before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in December to allow the transfer of commercial fishing quota to guided recreational anglers in an open market, between willing sellers and buyers. The additional quota would supplement annual guided angler allocations, thereby lessening recent restrictive bag limits. A Recreational Quota Entity (RQE) that would raise funds to buy quota would represent guided recreational anglers in a common pool. The preferred fund-raising option would be a guided angler halibut stamp, similar to the state of Alaska’s King salmon stamp. The stamp would have to be approved by the Alaska state legislature. The difference between the king salmon stamp and the proposed RQE halibut stamp will be that the halibut stamp will directly fund more fish for recreational anglers.
Since 2014, guided anglers, through the sport charter sector, have shared a common allocation set annually by the International Pacific Halibut Commission with commercial fishermen. Recent declines in harvestable abundance have meant each sector has seen drastic reductions in allocations. For guided anglers in Southcentral, this led to a reduction in the size of a second fish in a two halibut daily bag limit, to 28 inches in 2016 as well as an annual limit of four fish. This was in addition to a fishing closure on Thursdays and charter operators limited to one trip per day carried over from 2015. For Southeast Alaska, a reverse slot limit on a one fish per day bag limit of 43 inches or less or 80 inches or more is in effect.
Proponents of an RQE argue that this is what commercial fishermen have always demanded in the past 20 years, that is, a “compensated” means to transfer allocation rather than the uncompensated transfers that happened in the past and commercial fishermen would not be forced to sell any quota they do not want to. Guided anglers would be investing for future increased access to the fishery and thus make them better stewards of the fishery. On the commercial side, having a larger pool of buyers may help those fishermen who wish to exit the fishery but haven’t been able to find a buyer either with the capacity to buy more quota or the means to fund a large quota purchase.
Opponents of the plan argue it would increase quota prices and hinder new entrants into the fishery. While the market might adjust to a new buyer in the marketplace, it has already seen quota prices that have doubled in five years. No stockholder would be complaining if they saw their stocks double in value in such a short period. With halibut in high demand and selling at record high prices, why wouldn’t it make sense to buy into a fishery that seems to be increasing in value each year?
Ultimately an RQE would provide a means to return guided angler bag limits back to historic levels enjoyed for over thirty years. This will not only be good for anglers that want to put fish in their freezers for the winter, but also the businesses that depend on a community’s success as a sportfishing destination. Letters of support for this program that is scheduled to go to final action in December can be written to Chairman Hull, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, 605 W 4th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501 or emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may wish to comment on how restrictive bag limits have effected your decisions to take a charter fishing trip or lodge vacation and how a program like an RQE would benefit you as a sport angler. Please contact the Alaska Charter Association for more information at email@example.com. Taking all things into consideration, this program just makes good cents!