Some charter fishing operators in Alaska will soon have more flexibility to offer their customers additional halibut fishing opportunities through a unique new program.
NOAA Fisheries is implementing a final rule that authorizes the formation of a non-profit recreational quota entity (RQE), which may purchase and hold commercial halibut quota shares for use by charter anglers in International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) regulatory Areas 2C (Southeast Alaska) and 3A (Southcentral Alaska).
Under this regulatory amendment, the RQE may obtain a limited amount of commercial halibut quota shares under a willing buyer-willing seller model. The harvest pounds associated with the quota shares will become recreational fishing quota (RFQ) that is used to augment the amount of halibut available for harvest in the charter halibut fishery under the Alaska halibut catch sharing plan.
In recent years, restrictions on charter anglers have become more stringent as halibut abundance has dropped and catch limits have been reduced. Typical restrictions include daily and annual limits on the number of fish retained, fish size limits, and closures on specific days of the week.
If the RQE obtains enough quota share, restrictions on halibut size and bag limits could be relaxed for charter anglers in years of low abundance, up to a point where charter anglers could potentially retain up to the daily limit for unguided anglers—currently two fish of any size per day.
This rule implements restrictions on the purchase of quota shares by the RQE. The restrictions vary by regulatory area. In Area 2C, the RQE may purchase no more than 1% of the commercial quota shares in any year, and no more than 10% of the total commercial quota shares for that area. In Area 3A, the RQE’s annual limit of commercial quota share purchases would be 1.2%, with an upper limit of 12% of the total quota shares in the area.
The RQE may hold quota shares indefinitely, but is also allowed to transfer the shares back to the commercial halibut sector—a provision that adds flexibility and contributes to the market-based approach of the program.
This rule, which was recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, is implemented to promote social and economic flexibility in the charter halibut fishery, and is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982, and other applicable laws.