This week – Council to decide on proposed RQE to increase halibut allocation for charter operators

The December 7-9 meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) will decide the final action for the proposed Recreational Quota Entity (RQE) for guided halibut sport fishing operators. The program has been under discussion since 2014.

If established, the RQE would purchase and hold commercial quota (IFQs) for the charter fleet. Commercial fishermen are currently allocated 81.7% of the halibut to be fished in a given year and the guided sport fishery is allocated 18.3%. The RQE would shift halibut into the guided sport fishery.

We oppose the RQE program for the following reasons:

  • Increased risk for local area halibut depletions. Halibut fisheries are managed on the basis of broad areas with Southeast Alaska is a single management unit. The system is unable to protect local areas from overharvest. Guided sport fishing is concentrated near certain coastal communities including Juneau, Angoon, Sitka, Gustavus, and Elfin Cove. Since 98% of charter clients in our region are from out of state, increased guided sport fishing pressure would reduce halibut available as a local food to these communities.
  • Increased guided sport fishing pressure would not be evenly distributed. Acceptance of the RQE proposal would result in a 45% increase in the pounds of halibut harvested by guided sport fishermen in Southeast Alaska and a 10% decrease in pounds harvested by commercial fishermen. An increase in guided sport fishing would mean further impacts on halibut in waters where charter fishing is already prevalent.
  • Increased pressure on large female fish and, therefore, broodstock. Guided sport fishermen often target large “trophy” fish, including fish larger than 50”, which are all females. Since the largest females produce the most eggs, acceptance of the RQE would decrease broodstock.
  • More relaxed size regulations for guided fishermen. Regulations currently allow guided sport fishermen in Southeast Alaska to take one fish 43” and smaller or one fish 80” and larger per person per day. Non-guided sport fishermen may take two fish of any size per person per day. Under the 2014 Catch Sharing Plan, size limitations are determined based on the charter sector’s allocation. Since the RQE would increase the pounds of halibut allocated to guided sport fishermen, their size limitations would relax slightly in future years.
  • Funding for the RQE program is yet to be established. RQE funding is not proposed to come by direct purchase of the IFQ by charter captains, but instead from a state halibut stamp or other public money. A funding source is yet to be determined.

Few Southeast Alaska residents seem aware of this proposal even though it appears on the NPFMC website and has been under consideration for two years. Public comments must be submitted to the council by 5:00 PM Nov 29. Submit comments to npfmc.comments@noaa.gov in reference to agenda item 3C.