Story last updated at 5/13/2009 - 11:29 am
Federal fisheries officials published on May 6 a final rule that would limit the halibut charter fleet in Southeast Alaska to offering clients one halibut a day.
Charter operators opposed to that limit were expected to file a quick legal challenge.
"We are still taking a look at it," said Earl Comstock, a Washington, D.C., attorney for the Charter Halibut Task Force. "We have it under review and will have to talk to folks in the charter fishing sector before making a decision. I think a decision will be made fairly quickly whether to file or not. We want to have it resolved before the start of the season."
Charter operators are concerned that the National Marine Fisheries Service continues to reply on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's intent to hold charter operators to the guideline harvest level in taking this action, he said.
Unopposed, the final rule, made by NMFS in response to concerns about depletion of the halibut resource, would take effect 30 days after publication.
The charter fleet in Southeast Alaska has collectively exceeded the guideline harvest level for the fishery for five consecutive years.
The Charter Halibut Task Force declared victory on behalf of its clients and areas business owners last June after winning a temporary restraining order and then a temporary injunction against the one-halibut a day rule through the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
The federal council earlier determined that a one halibut a day limit is necessary to constrain the halibut charter fleet in Southeast, also known as Area 2C, to the charter fleet's allotted guideline harvest level. Without such action, the council concluded, the halibut resource would be in danger of significant depletion by the charter industry.
The commercial setline fleet in Southeast Alaska operates under strict individual fishing quotas. Over the past three years, the commercial setline quota in Area 2C has been cut 53 percent to buffer halibut stocks against overharvest. Setline harvesters said this reduction in the commercial quota results in a direct reduction of halibut available to the public in grocery stores and restaurants.
The IPHC has been increasingly concerned about the overharvest of halibut in Area 2C by the charter fleet.
In a statement released after the IPHC's 2009 annual meeting, the commission said that it also considered the proposed NMFS one-fish bag limit for charter fisheries in Area 2C for 2009.
"The commission expressed its desire to see implementation of effective management measures for this fishery, in consideration of the guideline harvest level of 788,000 pounds defined for this fishery," the commission said. "The commission will therefore monitor the implementation of the NMFS proposed rule. In the event of conservation concerns, the commission will be prepared to make extraordinary action at an intercessional meeting in 2009 to pass IPHC regulations commensurate with the intent to conserve the resource, should there be any delay or problem with the implementation schedule for the NMFS regulation."