The charter halibut fishing industry comes under new regulations this year. As of February 1st skippers will need a federal charter halibut permit to continue operating. Nearly 700 permits have been issued to existing operators. But many claim they’ve fallen through the cracks and have been denied permits. Already 125 applicants have appealed and that number could more than double. In the Southcentral area which includes the Kodiak and Homer fleets, as many as 121 skippers may appeal to keep from being shut out of the charter business.
KMXT’s Jacob Resneck reports.
— halibut charter pkg 4:31 "The total allowable … per angler. I’m Jacob Resneck."
The total allowable catch set by the international body that regulates the fishery has been cutting back on the commercial side and there’s been pressure to reign in the lucrative charter industry as well.
This year the charter industry comes under a new permit regime that’s been in the works for more than a decade. It’s a limited entry system and controls the amount of boats that can offer guided trips. It’s an initiative passed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, says staff analyst Jane DiCosimo.
There are limits on how many halibut anglers can keep. There are also voluntary guidelines for fish caught, but DiCosimo notes that there’s little incentive for the guidelines to be followed. The council has also established a catch share program but that has yet to come into force.
The limited entry program was supported by many in the charter industry. But not all. Chaco Pearman skippers the Three Bears out of Kodiak and sat on a stakeholder committee that reviewed the limited entry program before it was passed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. He concedes there had been issues with the large unregulated fleets out of Homer and the Southeast, but doesn’t agree Kodiak should be swept up in the regulation.
Pearman has been fishing for 15 years and received his permit. But others haven’t fared as well and have appealed. Samuel Catt started Midnight Sun Charters in 2002. But then the Coast Guard deployed him overseas during 2004 and 2005. Those same years were used to establish eligibility for the charter permits denying him an automatic permit.
Catt says that aside from the gap caused by his military deployment, he’s been chartering for almost nine years. But now he’s caught in limbo.
Leased permits are already fetching a premium. Permit brokers have listed some for sale for as much as $100,000 which Catt says is inflated.
DiCosimo says there those who have legitimate appeals. Others have lodged challenges despite having no history whatsoever. But much of the opposition to the program she says comes from latecomers.
Enforcement of the permit program falls to NOAA Fisheries. Supervisory Special Agent Ken Hansen notes that the new permit regime doesn’t limit the amount of trips taken or change the bag limit. It does, however, limit the amount of anglers on board and establishes stricter reporting requirements. Mainly, he says, agents will be looking out for unlicensed operators.
The new permit regime does not apply to subsistence or unguided sportfishermen. Bag limits remain two fish, any size around Kodiak. In the Southeast the limit is only one fish per angler.
I’m Jacob Resneck