Ruling Keeps Limited Entry for Charter Halibut

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

A charter halibut group is discussing whether to continue trying to block a limited-entry program in court.

Charter Operators of Alaska earlier this month asked a U.S. District Court judge for an injunction against the program. A Tuesday ruling denied that request.

The Homer-based group met on the phone today (Wednesday), but made no decision. President Jack Roskind of Whittier says they’ll meet with members this weekend.

“We’re literally talking our livelihood and what it’s worth to us to fight for our businesses,” he says.

The federal limited-entry system took effect in February. It impacts operators in Southeast and the central gulf, the regulatory areas known as 2-C and 3-A.

Limited entry is one of several efforts by NOAA Fisheries and other agencies to reduce the guided halibut catch, which has regularly exceeded its quota. Charter clients in Southeast Alaska are also limited to one fish per day, which can be no longer than 37 inches.

The judge who rejected the injunction will preside over another hearing next week. Roskind says he is not optimistic.

“We’re not really anticipating we’re going to win that. And the sooner he makes a decision the quicker we decide whether we have grounds to appeal his decision,” he says.

The charter group, mostly made up of gulf and Prince William Sound operators, says limited entry is putting about 330 people out of business.

Many Southeast charter businesses supported the program when it was proposed several years ago. And they still do.

Forrest Braden is interim executive director of the Sitka-based South East Alaska Guides Organization.

“We have a limited amount of fish that we’re given to fish on and it doesn’t make sense not to have some kind of a cap on effort and industry involvement. So we’re in full support of that,” he says.

Commercial fishermen have also faced substantial reductions in the amount of halibut they can catch.

Julianne Curry of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association says the new limitations for the guided fishery make sense.

“About a third of the charter fleet was turning over every year. That just doesn’t create an environment for regulatory stability. You don’t really know who the players are because they’re turning over all the time. So I think it’s a step in the right direction,” she says.

Many Southeast charter operators supported limited entry when it was proposed several years ago. But several of those involved in the discussion declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The limited-entry program issues charter permits to those who fished in 2008 and also either 2004 or 2005.

Some, but not all, of the permits can be transferred to other operators. The lawsuit seeks to include businesses in existence through 2010.

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