The teleconference, hosted at the Homer Chamber of Commerce, was a far cry from the last time NOAA officials came to town in 2011, when more than 100 frustrated halibut charter fishermen and commercial operators debated previously proposed plans. More than 4,000 public comments were received during that round of debate.
Glenn Merrill, National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region assistant administrator noted that the earlier meeting in Homer was “fairly contentious.”
While the teleconference meeting may have been calmer, the debate is no less heated, as commercial fishermen and charter operators argue over management choices with the declining stock of halibut. Commercial fishermen are allocated a certain amount of fish based on abundance, a number that has been dramatically declining in recent years, while the halibut charter fleet is allocated about 20 percent of the abundance. So far, the Southcentral Alaska halibut charter fleet has not exceeded its allocated amount of fish, unlike Southeast Alaska, where the charter fleet’s catch went over the limit significantly, causing the number and size of fish anglers could keep to be restricted. Meanwhile, fishermen on private boats are still allowed to keep two fish a day, an equation that may lead to an expansion in boat rentals, which charter operators say is not only dangerous to their business, but also to the public at large as inexperienced boaters take to Alaska’s unpredictable waters.
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