Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 7:32 PM on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Feds fix charter halibut rules, permit family fishing


Sportfish guides who don't qualify for the charter halibut limited access program got a break April 5. While federal rules still restrict them from taking out paying halibut fishermen without a charter halibut permit, they can at least go fishing for halibut with family and friends.

Under a clarification issued by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, a charter halibut permit is only required for vessels in areas 2C and 3A if one or more people are catching and retaining halibut and a guide on board receives compensation to provide sport fishing guide services. A guide does not need a charter halibut permit to take family and friends on a recreational fishing trip if there is no compensation.

A Homer sportfish guide, Jim Lavrakas of Skookum Charters, cheered the rule change. A retired Anchorage Daily News photographer, Lavrakas said he went into guiding knowing he wouldn't qualify for a charter halibut permit. He said that part of the joy that came from owning a boat was being able to take family and friends fishing.

"To have that back really takes the load off," Lavrakas sad. "There's this relief I'm feeling. I'm happy. Oh, happy days."

U.S. Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, also praised the decision. After getting complaints from constituents, Young wrote Deputy Regional Administrator Doug Mecum, NOAA Fisheries Alaska, explaining his concerns.

"Once this was brought to their attention, NOAA moved quickly to help Alaskan families, and I thank them for that," Young said in a statement last week.

NOAA Fisheries did caution that it recognizes compensation for assistance is not limited to exchanges of money and can include a trade of goods or services in exchange for taking someone fishing.

"NOAA Fisheries will consider the specific circumstance of a fishing trip to determine if a person is providing sport fishing guide services for compensation," it said in a press release.

NOAA Fisheries has updated the guide for the charter halibut limited access program to reflect the new interpretation of regulations. That guide is available at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/halibut/charter/faq.pdf.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.