The Highliner

Commercial fishing is a bedrock industry in Alaska, and has been for more than a century. Every year scores of fishermen net millions of migrating salmon, challenge the icy Bering Sea to trap king crabs, lay miles and miles of baited hooks for halibut, and scoop up enough pollock for a zillion fish sticks. And when fishermen aren't out fishing, they're usually talking about fishing. That's what this blog by Wesley Loy has been all about for the two years he has written it.

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Cook Inlet fisherman named to board - 4/1/2009 4:51 pm

Wrangell deal back on? - 3/31/2009 9:56 am

Here we go again

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council begins work today on yet another bold attempt to settle the interminable battle between two halibut fleets – the commercial fishermen and the charter boat captains.

With the supply of halibut limited, of course, both fleets aren’t too keen on surrendering any fish to the other side.

So this week, we can expect the usual cavalcade of guys making impassioned pleas down at the council, which is meeting at the Sheraton hotel.

By around Friday, council members likely will vote on whether to recommend the following measures to the U.S. commerce secretary:

• Divide the available halibut between the two fleets, commercial and charter. It won’t be an equal split, as the commercial fleet catches substantially more halibut than the charter fleet. Supporters see the split as a way to limit the charter catch, while still providing room to grow.

• Create a means for charter boat captains to lease catch rights from commercial fishermen, if necessary, to keep their clients fishing. The commercial guys already operate on a system of such rights, known as individual fishing quotas or IFQs.

Aside from these ideas, regulators are working on other ways to constrain the growth of the charter catch, which is chewing into the commercial catch.

One measure would allow charter anglers in Southeast to keep only one halibut per day instead of two. Another measure is limited entry – basically, restricting the number of charter boats that can operate.

Whether the council’s latest attempt at halibut détente will succeed is highly questionable.

Past efforts have crumbled under the weight of regulatory foot-dragging, legal challenges and, to hear some tell it, political pressure.

Against his better judgment, The Highliner expects to take in some of the testimony in hopes of hearing something original from either side.


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