Request for testimony asking that self-guided fishing come under equitable regulations

Dear Alaskan –

Who we are. Alaska Halibut Forever is a grassroots community organization that began in Gustavus in 2006. Our members are people from commercial, guiding, sport, and subsistence fishing backgrounds who are vested in halibut conservation. Our motto is, “We live on the coast, fish for our food, and want halibut to be plentiful forever.”

Halibut is an important food species for Alaska’s coastal communities and should remain so. Our focus has been to protect against halibut depletion in Icy Strait, Cross Sound, and Glacier Bay. However, we are seeking to expand our base to include individuals from other communities who are similarly concerned about halibut depletion.

What we’re focused on now: Self-guided fishing. Alaska Halibut Forever is currently focused on the impacts of “self-guided” halibut sport fishing because this is an insufficiently regulated and rapidly growing fleet. Self-guided clients typically purchase a complete package of services that includes meals, lodging, fish packing, boat rental, fishing gear, a GPS pre-programmed with waypoints where fish can be caught, and assistance via marine-band radio or by “minder” boats. In Southeast Alaska, these businesses began flourishing after 2010, when the bag limit for guided anglers fell to one halibut per person per day. Size restrictions on those fish were added later. Self guiding is a loophole that allows would-be guided fishermen to keep two fish of any size per day, like any unguided sport fisherman. Self-guiding businesses avoid the need to hold limited-entry Charter Halibut Permits (currently valued at $60,000–80,000 for 6 anglers), and they do not have catch reporting requirements like the commercial and guided sport fisheries. Needless to say, self-guided businesses negatively impact legitimate businesses for guided sport fishing.

The self-guided sector has grown rapidly. As of 2017, there were 43 self-guiding businesses in Southeast Alaska with a total of 173 boats. Data show that the halibut sport catch has climbed since these businesses came into being. Self-guiding businesses impact the halibut resource, yet they go without formal recognition, allocation, or an equitable system of regulation. This is occurring at a time when the halibut stock is near an all-time low. As sport-fishing technology improves, pressure increases on halibut in inside waters. In the waters around Gustavus, sport catch approximates the commercial catch in some years.

Involvement with managers. Alaska Halibut Forever sends representatives to meetings of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates Alaska’s halibut fisheries. In October 2018, the Council was responsive to our concerns about the self-guided sector. To read more about what happened at that meeting, please see these articles by KTOO radio and the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

There is as yet no information about when stronger regulations might be applied to self-guided fishermen, but we will continue to work toward equitable management. Our group is encouraged by the Council’s acknowledgement of the self-guiding “loop-hole,” but much work remains.

Council members recommend that Alaska Halibut Forever broaden our support base to include testimony from more coastal communities affected by self-guided fishing.

How you can help. We want to hear about how halibut have been impacted in your area. If you are interested in participating, please subscribe to our blog and like us on Facebook. We use these pages to share news articles about halibut, post Council updates, and ask for letters of testimony. With support from the Council, we may help protect Alaska’s coastal communities from local halibut depletions.

We are looking for Alaskans who share our concern about local halibut depletions, especially regarding pressure from self-guided fishing. Letters of testimony speaking to the impacts of self-guided halibut fishing and asking for these fishermen to come under equitable regulations will be needed before the Council’s April 2019 meeting. We will be back in touch in March with the necessary addresses and talking points.

Thanks,

Alaska Halibut Forever