NOAA Fisheries is proposing to authorize formation of a recreational quota entity (RQE), which could 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).
The proposed regulatory amendment would allow one non-profit RQE to obtain a limited amount of commercial halibut quota shares under a willing buyer-willing seller model. The harvest pounds associated with the quota shares would become recreational fishing quota (RFQ) that could be used to augment the amount of halibut available for harvest in the charter halibut fishery annually under the 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.
The proposed rule would implement quota share purchase restrictions that vary by regulatory area. In Area 2C, the RQE would be limited to 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 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 would be allowed to hold quota shares indefinitely, but is also allowed to transfer the shares back to the commercial halibut sector—a provision that adds flexibility to the program and contributes to the market-based approach of the program.
The proposed rule, recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, is necessary 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.
The proposed rule filed with the Federal Register today. Once published, it opens a 45-day public comment period. The public may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2016-0158, by any of the following methods:
- Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0158, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
- Mail: Submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.