FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Contact:Â Linda Behnken, (907) 747-0695
Coastal Community Residents Intervene to Protect Halibut Resource
Yesterday a wide range of individuals and organizations filed papers in U.S. District Court in Washington DC to intervene in the lawsuit filed by certain halibut charter businesses seeking to increase their 2008 harvest above authorized levels.Â
On June 10, Judge Rosemary Collyer issued a Temporary Restraining Order that blocked the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) from enforcing a one halibut bag limit on charter vessels in Southeast Alaska.Â The purpose of the rule was to ensure that the charter sector did not exceed their allocation for the fifth year in a row.
The Intervenors support action by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NMFS to hold the 2008 charter harvest to their 2008 harvest cap.Â Judge Collyer has scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing for June 20 in Washington, DC.Â
Intervenors include charter boat businesses, commercial fishermen and families, subsistence users, communities, and Southeast seafood processors. Common to all Intervenors is the concern that the plaintiff’s actions circumvent the public process carried out by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council) over a 14-month period.Â That process included comprehensive draft and final environmental assessments, two public hearings, and a public comment period on the proposed rule last January that generated 273 written comments.Â The plaintiffs offered no new information to fishery managers and the court other than what had already been considered in the public process.
The NMFS is vigorously contesting Judge Collyer’s ruling because of concern about overharvesting the resource and disruption of the public process. Â Â NMFS and their Department of Justice attorneys have requested a delay in the preliminary injunction hearing so they have time to better prepare their legal brief.Â
The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) has filed an amicus curiae brief with the court explaining the negative conservation impacts of repeated charter overages. In his brief, IPHC Executive Director Bruce Leaman states, “The IPHC catch limits explicitly presumed effective management of charter vessel fisheries to levels specified in United States fishery regulations. If the charter vessel fisheries are not held to the levels upon which IPHC catch regulations are based, the 2008 conservation targets accepted by Canada and the United States will not be realized.”
Halibut abundance in southeast Alaska has declined over the past two years, triggering a 43% reduction in the setline quota with another cut likely next year. The Southeast charter allocation was not reduced until this year, but charter operators have exceeded their allocation every year since 2004 by 20-36% annually.
Federal managers and the IPHC are charged with managing for sustained yield and protecting the public’s interest in fishery resources.Â The vast majority of the public gets their halibut at grocery stores, restaurants, and (especially in Alaska) through direct harvest.
Â ”The public has an interest in the long-term health of the halibut resource,” said Jev Shelton, spokesperson for the Halibut Coalition.Â “The Southeast setline fishery supplies approximately 10 million high quality servings of halibut each year to consumers and restaurant goers across the nation.Â That interest deserves protection.”
In commenting on the 2008 quota set by the IPHC, Tom McLaughlin, President/CEO of the 450-member Seafood Producers Cooperative noted, “In written materials presented at the annual meeting, IPHC staff stated that the halibut resource is at the lowest level in a decade.Â IPHC data indicate that the decline in Southeast Alaska is serious and driven by many factors, including the continual Guideline Harvest Level overages.”
“Resolving this issue is critical to relieving tensions in Southeast coastal communities,” said Shelton.Â “Clearly both commercial sectorsâ€”setline and charterâ€”need to share in conserving the resource by staying within allocations.”
Eighty-three percent of the Southeast setline allocation is harvested by Alaska residents; virtually all is processed in Southeast coastal communities.Â
The Halibut Coalition is comprised of fourteen halibut processing and fishing organizations, in addition to over 500 individual vessel owners and crew. The Coalition’s mission is:Â Â To protect the sustainability of the Pacific halibut resource, ensure fair and equitable allocation of the halibut resource among all sectors, and promote rational management of the halibut fishery.