Alaska News

Medred favors the wrong side of halibut fishing dispute

Craig Medred's column "Allocation of halibut calls for revolution" (June 7) contained misleading information.

First, the "token angler representative," as Medred refers to him, on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is a knowledgeable and well-respected sportfisherman and charter operator. He is also joined in representing sport and charter concerns by four appointees from state or federal agencies. All of them would take exception to being referred to as part of the "commercial pack." In fact, the council currently includes only two active commercial fishermen -- neither of whom have much time to fish given the demands of serving on the council.

Second, to conserve the halibut resource, removals must be controlled to biologically defined, sustainable limits. The International Pacific Halibut Commission sets those limits to allow full utilization on a sustainable basis. Controlling one harvesting sector while allowing another to exceed limits results in over-harvest, which compromises resource health.

The charter sector has exceeded its guideline harvest level for four straight years. Yes, halibut stocks are healthy -- in fact, the setline fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable in recognition of good stewardship and good management. However, stocks will not remain healthy if one sector (the charter fleet) continues to over harvest its allocation. Reducing the setline quota to account for charter overharvest would be taxation with no justification.

Third, catch rates have declined fishery-wide and have decreased sharply in Southeast for all halibut sectors in the past five years, including charter clients. The setline industry has taken a 43 percent quota reduction over the past two years to reduce pressure on stocks and allow for rebuilding.

As the federal government's legal brief states: "Indeed, it would hardly be considered fair and equitable to the commercial sector to have its share of the halibut harvest reduced while the guided recreational sector was allowed to harvest the same amount as previous years or even more."

Fourth, Medred claims "the fishing industry pumps most of its money south." This may be true of the charter industry in Southeast, which has many lodges and businesses owned by nonresidents, but it is certainly not true of the setline halibut industry. Alaskans hold 66 percent of halibut quota statewide and 83 percent of the Southeast setline halibut quota. Close to 100 percent of the setline harvested halibut is landed in Alaska, according to the McDowell Group.


In short, the Southeast halibut fishery is owned by Alaskans, harvested by Alaskans and the catch is processed in Alaska. Southeast setline fishermen are "mom-and-pop" operations, to borrow a phrase from Medred, raising their families in Alaska's coastal communities and supporting coastal economies year-round.

There are 2,816 halibut IFQ holders (that's Medred's "handful") and the average Southeast quota share holder harvests less than 6,000 pounds of halibut per year. Compare this with the lodge owners represented in the lawsuit, some of whom (according to their testimony before the council) account for more than 100,000 pounds of halibut harvest per year and leave Alaska each winter.

Finally, charter plaintiffs have not challenged the overall halibut allocation among users; they have challenged the management measures that enforce their share of it during this year of low abundance. To my mind, any "revolution" in halibut management should be led by the subsistence, non-guided sport and setline fishermen who depend on the halibut resource for sustenance and livelihood. This is the public's resource, as Medred points out. No sector should be allowed to overfish.

Linda Behnken of Sitka is director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association.