PUBLISHED: 4:08 PM on Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Halibut charter limit hearing could still be extended until June 30
The fate of the daily halibut harvest for the guided sport sector in Southeast Alaska still hung in the balance in mid-June, with a federal judge to decide whether to postpone a decision or grant a preliminary injunction.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer was scheduled for a hearing June 20 for a preliminary injunction against a one-halibut limit for guided customers on Southeast Alaska charter vessels.

Earl Comstock, an attorney representing the guided anglers, said June 17 that Collyer could at that time extend the hearing to June 30, as requested by defendants, issue a preliminary injunction or remove the temporary restraining order.

Collyer said in a statement issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the court found good cause exists to continue the preliminary injunction hearing, which was initially set for June 20.

Collyer issued a temporary restraining order June 10 in a decision by federal fisheries officials to lower the daily allowable catch aboard Southeast Alaska charter boats to one halibut. Now, at least until June 30, charter boat clients will be allowed to harvest two halibut daily, although one must be less than 32 inches in length.

The limit applies only to charter vessels in Southeast Alaska.

Federal officials imposed the lower limit because charter vessels in that area had greatly exceeded the harvest limit for their sector set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Southeast Alaska charter operators, whose clients are mostly non-residents, maintain that the new limit was an allocation issue, and that the halibut resource is healthy. The longline sector of the commercial fleet disagrees, maintaining that excessive harvests by the Southeast charter sector are a conservation issue.

In a motion filed with the federal court June 16, James Balsiger, acting assistant administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said an extension was warranted to allow NMFS to present additional information to the court.

Balsiger said it is critical that NMFS have an opportunity to clarify the legal authority used by the agency to manage Pacific halibut and to present additional relevant information and explain why its action was lawful and necessary for the conservation and management of the pacific halibut fishery.

Henry Mitchell, speaking for the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization, said that in the long run he doesn't think this issue can be resolved in the courts.

"The overall issue about allocation will have to be resolved by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and in such a way that it is a fair resolution of the issue," he said.

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermens Association, expressed concern that the one fish bag limit would be extended for the rest of June.

"But I recognize that the intent of the government is to provide the judge with the best available information to allow her to make a decision that maintains the health of the resource and protects the interests of all who depend on that resource," she said.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at