Dear Mr. Chairman:
This statement supplements a letter submitted to the Council by the Recreational Fishing Alliance on January 31, 2001. RFA is one voice, representing thousands of anglers who reside inside and outside Alaska, but who spend money in Alaska. RFA has 75,000 affiliated members and 25,000 dues-paying members - 100,000 in all. RFA endorses comments submitted during the February 2001 Council meeting by Sitka Charter Boat Operators Association and comments by Oregonians for Fish & Fishing and by Jack Franzel.
There is no justifiable rationale to impose an IFQ management scheme on the halibut charter fishery in Alaska. The problem statement in the staff analysis (the initial review draft, Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analyses for regulatory amendment to incorporate the charter sector into the commercial individual fishing quota program for Pacific halibut in Areas 2C and 3A) ("EA") discusses only capitalization and allocation. These concerns do not justify the imposition of a limited access management system, under Halibut Act and Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Management Act.
Phil Smith, head of enforcement of the commercial IFQ program, noted in his power point presentation on halibut IFQs during the September 2000, Council meeting, four concerns addressed by the halibut commercial IFQ program: conservation, safety, overcapitalization, consumer desire for fresh fish. Here, conservation is not the issue -- allocation is the issue. Charter fishing takes 5% of the resource; substantially less than is lost to bycatch. With regard to safety, anglers without access to a guided charter will be less safe, if they decide to go out on their own. They desire access all year, and their interest is not being considered. A concern about "overcapitalization" (i.e., commercial interests) is driving the development of this program.
We note that, with regard to conservation, there has been no analysis of the secondary impacts on other fisheries, if access to halibut is reduced. Nor has there been any analysis of the impact of an IFQ program on the pressure on the nearshore fishery. Those people active in the fishery have stated that commercial fishing in the nearshore has increased. Should the Council examine what kind of fish are caught there?
This IFQ management scheme for charter fishing is intended to address only economic concerns: it is intended to protect the anticipated future income stream of the commercial fishermen, and it will transfer a valuable interest in the fishery to some charter fishermen. The stated motive is to protect the commercial interest of commercial fishermen, at the expense of others. Yet there has been very little mention and less analysis of potential impacts on the sport fishermen or the communities.
The RFA understands that the Council predicts a drop in the TAC. We note an article in January 31 Anchorage Daily News, enclosed. That article states that researchers lowered 1999 halibut estimates by 20 to 30 percent "as a precaution," because they assumed surveys using only salmon for bait overestimated the halibut biomass. That was wrong. Bruce Leaman, director of the IPHC, is quoted as saying, "The 2000 survey catches were strong, commercial catch rates were up and the halibut seem to be growing faster." He also cautions that biologists expect "a gradual decline" in halibut stocks, based on the abundance of age groups still too small for commercial fishermen to keep, but he does not quantify that decline.
The article states that the IPHC has recommended the following increases in the TAC, to US and Canadian governments: Gulf 18.3 to 21.9 million pounds. Peninsula 15 to 16.5 million pounds. SE 8.4 to 8.8 million pounds.
Another recent article in the Anchorage Daily News reports that resident fishing license sales in Alaska are down 8%. Copy enclosed. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game is surveying Alaskans to find out why. Page 45 of the EA notes a drop in the growth rate since 1961. There may be no need for an IFQ program in the charter sector, since demand cannot grow if the customers are not there.
The principle concern of the RFA is that the Council has not analyzed the potential impacts on the anglers who go out on charter vessels. In the Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis for a regulatory amendment to incorporate the charter sector into the commercial individual fishing quota program for Pacific halibut in Areas 2C and 3A, issued January 22, 2001, the staff states that Council directed them to analyze impacts of the proposed program on "all commercial sectors." Page v. It does not mention anglers. At page 21, the EA states, "Recreational fisheries have received inadequate consideration in IFQ programs." The RFA is concerned that this privatization of a public resource is likely to cost the sport angler more to charter, with less opportunity to access halibut AT ANY PRICE. We also fear that bare boat charters will become more attractive, putting more anglers who are unskilled in Alaska waters, at risk.
The Council has assumed that charter boat owners' interest is
identical to the interest of their customers. This is not true. The EA
states, "A quota system adopted by the Alaskan charter industry can be
expected to generate substantial and largely unpredictable changes as
quota owners search for new ways to maximize the profits associated
with quota rights." Page xxiii. It includes some discussion at page
219, where the draft EA speculates, after IFQs are issued:
· "Reducing the number of halibut harvested on their boat, if the halibut allocation is a constraint, is a logical way to reduce costs."
Other comments appear at page 198, related to the types of trips that might be available after IFQs are in place. Additional comments appear at page 168:
· The IFQ program would limit entry into the halibut charter fishery. It could exclude charter operators that are recent entries.
· Clients of excluded operators would be forced to select different operators, find a spot on a non guided boat or not go halibut fishing.
· Anglers from out of state are unlikely to find a person with a private boat to take them fishing.
· Anglers who cannot go halibut fishing may decide to go salmon fishing. This could increase the effort in the salmon fishery.
There could be mass exodus from the charter industry, if charter operators can sell or lease quota share or IFQs to commercial fishermen.
One impact seems to be certain, although it is not addressed in the EA: the cost of a charter will rise. First, the IFQ program will capitalize the charter industry. The charter operator will pass along the cost of that capital (the rate of return or the cost to retire debt) to the angler. Second, the cost of enforcement also is likely to be passed along to the customer: again, the angler.
This is NOT an incremental expansion of the commercial IFQ program; it is a new program, to be applied to recreational fishermen, without their knowledge, without their input and without their representation. At page 188, the EA states, "The proposed charter IFQ program is somewhat unique among quota programs since quota would be allocated to charter vessel owners rather than the individuals who are actually licensed to harvest the fish (the anglers). In virtually all other programs, individuals who engage in the harvesting are granted the quota." Here, anglers are disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Anglers would have no say on transfer, management or enforcement.
The charter fish industry is NOT a variation on or a subset of the commercial fishing industry. It is markedly different, and this is reflected in definitions of the industry sector in the Magnuson Stevens Act. Commercial fishermen catch fish that they then own and sell. Charter fishermen "carry a passenger for hire, who is engaged in recreational fishing." Charter fishermen sell a boat ride, gear, their expertise and safety. They do not own the fish caught on their boats.
Under the North Pacific Halibut Act of 1982, an allocation or assignment of halibut fishing privileges, must be fair and equitable to all such fishermen, based upon the rights and obligations in existing Federal law; reasonably calculated to promote conservation; and carried out in such a manner that no particular individual corporation or other entity acquires an excessive share of the halibut fishing privileges. The plan under consideration fails this standard. Furthermore, this program would require a socioeconomic study, under National Standards 4 and 2 of the Magnuson Stevens Act. The Council has done no such study.
The Council is trying to address LOCAL concerns, for nearshore waters, in areas 3A and 2C. Charter fishermen have testified that the concerns vary within the areas. Could these concerns be better addressed by a local area management plan, done by the State of Alaska?
The RFA is concerned that the Council is basing its decisions on unreliable data of halibut caught by the charter industry. The charter logbook program started in 1998. There is no degree of confidence in the data. The logbook program has been modified every year. There is no way to document validity. Halibut are recorded by number and converted to pounds. This is susceptible to a high degree of error. This is discussed at page 55 of the EA. Log book data for year 2000 shows a 21% increase in fish by guides. Is this consistent with other (CREEL) studies or with mail in surveys?
An IFQ program would endow a few with the largesse created by the privatization of a public resource. Some charter operators could receive $200,000 to 500,000 worth of QS. People who have no justifiable expectation of continued profits will be getting the equivalent of a cash windfall.
Who owns the fish caught by the angler now? Who will own that fish,
under an IFQ program? The IFQ program would give the ownership of the
sport caught fish to the charter operator. Will anglers have to pay
the charter owner for the fish they caught? Has this happened anywhere
else in the United States? Charter vessel owners who own the IFQ may
set limits, to extend their season. Would going from a 2-fish to
1-fish limit have an impact on the demand and price of a charter
fishing expedition? Would it affect the experience of the angler?
Recreational fishermen ask the Council to consider a true change in the commercial IFQ program to reward fishermen who minimize bycatch (waste of nontarget fish and other marine life as a consequence of industrialized fishing practices).
To protect their interests in the fishery, the RFA asks the Council to preserve the status quo. Furthermore, it asks the Council to potential impacts on anglers, on communities, on tourism, before any management scheme is implemented. In September 2000, Phil Smith described halibut as "Alaska's favorite fish." RFA agrees. It will oppose this proposed program at all levels. It will look for help from the tourism industry.
The RFA has heard, "This is too far down the track to be derailed." This is not a thoughtful statement - a bad idea is a bad idea. An unreasonable program developed without sufficient analysis is not justifiable (and, arguably, illegal), regardless of the momentum behind it. We ask the Council to study the impacts and preserve fishing opportunities for future generations of anglers. We ask you to prevent the giveaway of a public resources. Fisheries management is not just about preserving historic income levels for certain commercial fishermen, at the expense of everyone else.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of these issues.
RECREATIONAL FISHING ALLIANCE