Federal managers are set to decide in April if small lots of halibut quota shares will be made available to crewmembers by a lottery system.
When a quota system was implemented for Alaska halibut and sablefish in 1995, shares of the catch were distributed according to each fisherman's historical participation and poundage. About five hundred people were issued very small amounts, many less than one hundred pounds.
They've never fished them, and those shares have lain dormant.
Federal fishery managers have suggested for years that the quota simply be revoked, and put into the total pool made available for each year's halibut fishery.
More recently, the Deep Sea Fishermen's Union (founded in 1912) has proposed that the shares be redistributed to qualified crewmembers through a lottery system.
There is not much halibut involved, said Phil Smith, director of the Restricted Access Management division of NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.
"In most areas, halibut quota that would be subject to the lottery would be less than one tenth of one percent of the entire quota share pool.
That's about 150,000 pounds statewide. And if we put the word out to these people to use it or lose it, there is a good chance the amount available would become even smaller," Smith said.
That poundage is still enough to make it worthwhile to displaced deckhands who would like to own a piece of the halibut action, said DSFU's Tim Henkel who proposed the lottery idea last December.
Henkel's plan would provide increments of 5,000 pounds for the lottery, and it would only be available to those who have never owned quota shares.
"Halibut quota starts at $20 to $22 a pound, meaning a value of about $100,000. So it is significant to a crewmember, and it gives them a little leg up," Henkel said.
He said that he did not receive an initial allocation of halibut shares, but was able to purchase some through a federal loan program that helps entry level and small boat fishermen obtain quota shares.
"It turns you into a new breed of cat, it's like home ownership. When you become vested in the fishery, you look at things differently and become more professional and accountable," Henkel said.
Accountability is another important part of Henkel's plan.
"In order to qualify, you must apply to RAM and get the transfer eligibility certificate, which means you also must have documented 150 days of fishing time.
So even if you don't win the lottery, you'll have all the paperwork in to purchase quota through the loan program. I don't care if you have a gazillion dollars, you can't buy one pound without that documentation," he said.
Phil Smith agrees that the halibut lottery "opens the door a tiny crack and lets in a few lucky people."
The question becomes whether all of the administrative and official work involved is in the public's best interest for such a limited benefit. Smith said if the Council approves the idea in April, it will take two or three years before the lottery will be in place.
Three new names have applied for seats on the state Board of Fisheries. Board chairman Art Nelson is likely to step down next month to work as a consultant for a Western Alaska fisheries group.
Two other seats are up as part of the regular three year cycle that ends on June 30 - Jeremiah Campbell of Seward and Fred Bouse of Fairbanks. Campbell has said he is seeking reappointment; no official word yet on Bouse's intentions.
Meanwhile, three other candidates have filed for a seat on the seven member panel - Michael Heimbuch of Homer, Dan Hull of Anchorage and Larry Van Ray of Soldotna.
According to the weekly fisheries publication "Laws for the Sea," Heimbuch has owned and operated a set net site in Cook Inlet for more than 40 years.
He also has participated in herring, halibut, shrimp and crab fisheries in many regions of the state.
He has been a lobbyist and consultant on Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay fishing issues, and is currently on the Homer city council.
Dan Hull has been a commercial fisherman for salmon and halibut in Prince William Sound since 1981, and has fished for Kuskokwim salmon and in western Alaska roe herring fisheries.
Hull was formerly a researcher at the Institute of Social and Economic Research in Anchorage. He is a board member of Cordova District Fishermen United and the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, among others.
Larry Van Ray has not fished commercially, but holds degrees in wildlife and fisheries biology.
He was a Fish and Game biologist at Bristol Bay in the early 1970's and worked as a fisheries project leader for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Kenai until 1984.
Gov. Frank Murkowski has until April 1 to make his appointments to the fish board, and they must be approved by the Legislature.
Besides commercial fisheries, the board also oversees state subsistence, sport and personal use fisheries.
The governor will also soon name his recommendations for two seats coming open on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council - Arne Fuglvog of Petersburg and Ed Rasmussen of Anchorage. Those seats must be approved by the Secretary of Commerce.
On a related note - along with a race for governor, half of the Alaska Senate seats and all of the House seats are up for election this year.
Up and coming leaders in seafood processing are invited to apply to the new Alaska Seafood Processing Leadership Institute.
Armed with funds from the Alaska Fisheries Revitalization Strategy, a partnership between the state Commerce Dept. and the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program is targeting people who "show an aptitude and interest in seafood processing," said fisheries specialist Glenn Haight.
"It's more than just becoming a plant manager - we want to identify and expedite the growth of people who might own and operate their own facility down the road," he added.
The program will include classes in seafood processing, sanitation, marketing and logistics, business, and personnel and plant management.
After spending the summer working at a seafood processing facility, students will take off next year on an all expenses paid, 10-day trip to the east coast and Iceland to see first hand the technology and operations used by other cold climate seafood processors.
Applicants are encouraged to apply with a mentor, who can provide a required contribution of $2,500.
"That might be someone from the processing sector, or a regional organization or CDQ group," Haight said.
He added that fishermen who catch, process and market their own fish are also encouraged to apply.
Deadline for applications is March 3, 2006. Successful candidates will be notified by March 29.
Questions? Contact Angela Camos via email at email@example.com or at 907-274-9691. Get more information at www.marineadvisory.org.
Welch, who lives in Kodiak, has written about Alaska's seafood industry since 1988.