Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 2:41 PM on Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chamber members OK letter

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

The Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center's general membership took action into their own hands Sunday, voting 78-to-6 in favor of a three-point official comment to National Marine Fisheries Service regarding a halibut catch sharing plan currently being considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The meeting was called after the chamber's 13-member board of directors was short of votes required to reach the same conclusion.

As directed by the members, the letter to be written by Executive Director Monte Davis is to request:

• Extending the comment period that began July 21 and ends Sept. 6 for 60 days;

• Preparing an economic impact analysis using current data;

• Setting the CSP allocation to closely approximate the existing Guideline Harvest Level for Area 3A, the central Gulf of Alaska including Cook Inlet and Homer.

"The word 'oppose' is not in this letter," Davis told the Homer News. "I think that's a big thing. We're making a comment on the CSP, but we did not say we oppose it. ... Nobody is against any kind of a plan that will work for everybody. They just want to tweak it so it will work for everybody. I'm hoping to use this as an olive branch to extend to the commercial guys. ... At the very least, we listened to the membership."

As written, the catch sharing plan would give the guided halibut charter fleet a specific percent of the allowable catch set annually by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Depending on the amount, charter operators could face a one-fish-per-day limit; two fish a day with one less than 32 inches long; or two fish of any size per person per day, as is currently the case.

Charter operators and supporting business owners fearing the negative economic impact of the plan threatened to withdraw membership from the chamber, stop selling tickets for the chamber-sponsored Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby and to discourage clients and customers from supporting the derby if the board did not oppose the plan.

At an Aug. 18 meeting, the board, having already determined the CSP to be a "sensitive" issue, failed to get the 75 percent board approval needed to submit a comment to NMFS. The following morning, charter captains and business owners began making good their promise.

An emergency meeting of the board was held Aug. 24, during which charter operators urged the board to vote in support of commenting to NMFS and commercial fishermen urged the board to maintain a neutral stance. A motion for a three-point letter failed to get board approval, while a motion for a letter excluding mention of the GHL was passed. The board then approved a motion to allow chamber members to decide on the content of the letter at a general membership meeting to be called for Aug. 28.

At that meeting, Greg Sutter of Capt. Greg's Charters made the motion to include in the letter the request to set the Catch Sharing Plan allocation to closely approximate the GHL. Donna Bondiolo of Captain B's Alaskan C's Adventures called for the question, ending discussion on the motion.

The letter was expected to be mailed Wednesday, Davis told the Homer News.

The Homer Chamber of Commerce's comment to the National Marine Fisheries Service will be posted as soon as it is received by the Homer News.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.