Charter fishermen, lodge owners sue over 1-halibut limit

IT USED TO BE 2: The fisheries service rule goes into effect June 5.

May 24, 2009 

JUNEAU -- For the second year in a row, a group of Southeast charter fishing captains and lodge owners is suing over new rules that limit halibut to one fish a day.

The National Marine Fisheries Service tried to impose the one-halibut daily limit on charters last year but the charter operators pooled their resources and sued. They won on a technicality, so were allowed two fish a day last summer.

The fisheries service says it has fixed the procedural problem and reissued the rule, which is slated to go into effect next month.

The problem is that charter operators have exceeded a collective harvest guideline since 2004.

Commercial halibut fishermen, meanwhile, have taken deep cuts in their quota. They say that halibut are being depleted and the charter industry ought to accept the limit to protect the fishery.

In its complaint filed Friday, the charter group alleges that the fisheries service didn't identify specific conservation concerns in Southeast. They also said the fisheries service was using data more than a decade old and that the new rule is unfair.

The new complaint says, "The one-fish daily bag limit at issue ... is identical in all relevant respects to the rule that was invalidated by the Court."

Anglers on charter boats for years have been able to catch two halibut.

The rule kicks in June 5.

An organization representing charter operators, Charter Halibut Task Force, successfully blocked the similar one-halibut rule last year.

The National Marine Fisheries Service announced the rule May 6. Two days later, participants in a statewide teleconference organized by the task force agreed to pursue legal action to block it.

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