Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:08 PM on Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Halibut proposal: a disgrace and an outrage

Point of View

By Brian Emard

The new halibut catch share proposal (CSP) will potentially devastate the charter fishing industry, local economies of Homer and Seward, and negatively impact virtually every business in Alaska with any dependence on tourism.

Disguised as a conservation measure, this CSP will not reduce the catch levels, but simply re-allocate a major share of the guided catch to the commercial sector that already controls the lion's share of the resource. The proposal will in effect reduce the guided recreational bag limit next year in half from two fish to one.

It contains an absurd provision whereby charter fishermen could "buy back" fish for their clients (from commercial fishermen) that will never work because at today's prices that extra fish alone could easily cost $150.

The very body that wrote this rule is unequivocally controlled by commercial fishing interests. This proposal was passed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council back in 2008 by a vote of 10-1, with the lone dissenting vote being the only board member that truly represented the charter and sport fishermen interests.

The NPFMC is a ruse that should represent all of us, but in actuality five out of the six "fishermen" on the board have direct ties to commercial fishing and four out of the remaining five positions are politically accountable so they also are highly influenced by commercial interests. These positions are political appointments. Commercial fishing interests buy influence through political donations and they get appointed and control the very board that makes the rules controlling their industry. Kind of like the fox watching over the henhouse, isn't it?

You need look no further than Sen. Lisa Murkowski's recent top fisheries adviser, Arne Fuglvog, who will be going to jail and paying a large fine for commercial fishing violations to illustrate this paradigm. He was on the board that wrote this CSP proposal. It's bad enough that they write their own rules hoarding this precious resource, then they have the audacity to go out and poach. Disgraceful.

This kind of big business control, influence and greed sickens me. It amounts to nothing short of legalized bribery.

Under this new proposal the commercial fleet will control up to 86 percent of the allowable catch while charter and sport fishing will be left with a mere 14 percent. The Magnuson Stevens Act mandates that these resources should be shared on a "fair and equitable" basis. Do commercial interests own the oceans? What gives them the right to hoard this precious public resource that belongs to all of us?

It's true that total allowable catch has been reduced for the commercial fleet in recent years as well, but the huge increase in price has greatly mitigated this and more than made up for the reduction. There is no such remedy for the charter industry. An independent survey of more than 150 sport tourists revealed that more than 95 percent of them would not return to Alaska if their limit was cut in half to one fish.

An economic analysis was required to be accomplished by the NMFS as part of any new rule. By their own admission, they "didn't have much data to base that analysis on." Unbelievably, they didn't even consider what this would do to the economies of Homer, Seward or Alaska. With the sport fishing industry accounting for $1.6 billion into Alaska annually, what were they thinking?

In a 2009 study, University of Alaska Anchorage professor Gunnar Knapp concluded that the economic contribution of sport fishing may be as much as 4.5 times that of commercial fishing and the economic impact of sport fishing may be as much as 50 percent greater than that for commercial fishing.

Here we are with our federal government spending billions of our tax dollars in economic stimulus money while at the same time they are about to pass this proposal that will have a far-reaching negative impact on our state and local economies. Outrageous.

The charter fishing industry is already in the middle of a major shakeup with the new federal Charter Halibut Permit system that went into effect just this year. Even conservative estimates are that this alone eliminated more than one-third of the charter fishing businesses. This hasn't even been taken into account in this new rule.

Furthermore, the growth rates of halibut have changed so dramatically over just the past few years the fisheries data that this whole proposal is based on is already obsolete before it even becomes law.

Fellow Alaskans, this onerous legislation must be stopped and time is running out. We are already in the middle of the 45-day public comment period, the final phase before it is signed into law. Anyone that wants their children and grandchildren to be able to enjoy the bounty of this great land that we have been blessed with needs to take action.

It's time to put an end to this all-too-cozy relationship between commercial fishing interests and politicians. Write to every one of your political representatives, especially the governor, and tell them under no uncertain terms if they don't come out against this proposal and act to end this paradigm they will never get your vote again.

Write to the Secretary of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service and tell them their economic analysis for this proposal is a farce and if they are truly interested in commerce they will not sign this into law because it will devastate the commerce of some of our communities and affect every Alaskan business with any dependence on tourism. It's time for all of us to stand up and tell them we're wise to their game and borrow the line from the movie: "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more!"

Brian Emard, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard and a Desert Storm veteran, is the owner/operator of Anchor River Lodge and AK Salmon Charters.