Halibut subsistence fishery draws 8,500 people

Posted: Wednesday, July 09, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) A halibut subsistence fishery has drawn interest from thousands of people.

About 8,500 people have obtained certificates to participate in the subsistence fishery since they became available in mid-May.

Federal and tribal officials say for the most part the program has run smoothly.

''Most people are real excited about it, said Gordon Jackson, Tlingit-Haida Central Council business and economic development manager. ''There's a lot of people applying for it.''

The long-awaited halibut subsistence regulations, which took effect May 15, allow members of eligible rural communities and tribes to catch 20 halibut per day, year-round, using no more than 30 hooks per day. The regulations, which were created by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, grant eligibility to 117 communities and 120 tribal groups.

The North Pacific council is a federal, state and industry group that sets regulations for fisheries in U.S. waters off the coast of Alaska.

In Juneau, some members of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council are unhappy with the boundaries within which halibut subsistence fishing is allowed, Jackson said. He said the fuel costs for traveling to the approved subsistence fishing waters north of Berners Bay, more than 40 miles from downtown, are steep.

Al McKinley, vice president of the Tlingit-Haida Community Council, Juneau's local tribal organization, said the regulations are meant to allow for customary and traditional use. He said Juneau's Natives are used to fishing for halibut off north Douglas Island and south Shelter Island, and it's not safe for the ones with smaller boats to travel all the way to Berners Bay for subsistence fishing.

The boundaries are based on criteria for nonsubsistence areas established by state and federal officials, said Phil Smith, program administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's restricted access management program in Alaska.

Smith said the council will consider proposals to amend the program.

Another issue is compensation. The rules allow participants to receive up to $400 per year in noncommercial compensation for the customary sharing of the fish. Smith said the North Pacific council members are monitoring the program closely to be sure no one takes improper advantage of the provision.

It's unclear so far how many halibut have been caught under the program. Smith said the state Department of Fish and Game will survey certificate-holders at the end of the year to estimate how many fish were caught.

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