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Feds blasted for extending comment period on controversial halibut plan just 14 days

Michael ArmstrongHomer News
Fishermen and politicians are riled up over the extension of public comment on a controversial halibut proposal for a mere two weeks -- in the midst of the busy summer fishing season. Steven Betts / flickr

In response to requests by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, the Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center and the Alaska Charter Association, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries announced it had extended the comment period on its controversial halibut Catch Sharing Plan -- but only by 14 days. The new comment period ends Aug. 26.

“I think it’s absolutely silly,” said chamber Executive Director Monte Davis. “We asked for enough time so that people in their busiest time of year would have time to comment.”

Begich also expressed disappointment.

“Giving Alaskans just two weeks more during the busy summer fishing season to comment on a contentious plan on how we manage our state’s halibut fishery is a disservice,” he said.

Begich and Murkowski had asked for a 45-day extension and the chamber requested a 60-day extension.

In a press release, NOAA Fisheries said it recognized the concerns of working fishermen who want the chance to comment. However, extending the comment period longer would jeopardize the prospects of implementing it for the 2014 fishing season, NOAA Fisheries said.

The proposed regulations would replace the current charter guideline harvest level with a percentage allocation of the commercial and charter combined catch limit for each area.  Many fear that would mean a one-halibut-per-day limit for clients of the sport charter fishing fleet. As it does now, the catch limit is determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission each year. Allocations would vary based on changes in halibut abundance.

The catch-sharing plan would not affect unguided sport fishermen fishing from private boats.

“We strongly encourage folks to take the time to sit down and read the actual text of the plan so they’ll have the facts before commenting,” said Dr. James Balsiger, Alaska regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, of the 36,000-word plan, about half the length of a short novel. 

How to comment

Public comments can be sent to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, and identified by FDMS Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2011-0180. Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:

• Electronic Submission:  via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov

• Mail: P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668

• Fax: 907-586-7557

A copy of the proposed halibut catch sharing plan is available online at the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region website at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.