WAKE UP PEOPLE, it has begun.
The charter guys are coming to cut bag limits for unguided sport anglers – you and I -- and it's right there in their letters to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council this week (I have attached a pdf with exerpts).
There appear to be at least three motives behind this.
THE FIRST MOTIVE: In southeast Alaska, where the charter reductions have already been in place for a few years to (try to) stay within their GHL, there has been an increase in rental boats and bare boat charters to take advantage of the differential bag limits between unguided and guided (charter) sport anglers. Some lodges have gone to a bare-boat charter/rental set up so their clients can still take advantage of a 2-fish a day limit for halibut. What becomes obscene is that those lodges and charters that have not adapted to this are viewing unguided fishing as competition and are now aiming to “hobble” unguided sport in order to take away that incentive for potential clients to look at unguided fishing as an option. The Alaska Charter Association even provides the evidence for this in their letter to the Council, saying: (this is from page 4 of my attachment)
“[…] Any rule that results in restriction of guided harvest will result to leakage to unguided access. The 56% increase in Area 2C unguided harvest in 2007 (the year the minnow rule was implemented) is proof that this will happen.”
THE SECOND MOTIVE: In south central Alaska, charter operations are looking at the same possibility if differential bag limits for charter anglers becomes a reality in the future and they are trying to head this off before it becomes an issue – by dragging unguided anglers into their fight. The letter from the Homer Charter Association to the Council states: (this is from page 2 of my attachment)
“[…] Guided and unguided anglers should be treated equally. A plan that tightly regulates only the guided recreational sector will result in harvest movement to the unguided recreational sector especially in 3A, with the end result being a decrease in overall safety for recreational anglers and little or no reduction of recreational harvest. The one fish rule discriminates against the guided angler and creates a class system of allocation.”
THE THIRD MOTIVE: Based on information from the recent interim IPHC meeting, there is the possibility that extreme cuts to the halibut harvest may be coming to 3A and perhaps, at some point, everyone needs to shoulder some of the reduction…to share the burden of conservation. But even in this case, nobody is proposing that we “save” these fish…any fish not caught by unguided anglers would be effectively re-allocated to either charters or longliners. While AKCAPT couched his hypothetical question in this context in his other thread, NONE of the letters to the Council conditioned their recommended reduction in unguided bag limits on dire harvest cut situations.
Looking back, I have to admit that the charter guys warned us that changes to unguided sport bag limits might be coming…and that either the longliners or NMFS was eventually going to come for the rest of us unless we engaged in their fight and came to their side.
Thank a longliner?
I had to laugh when I typed that header, but here’s the real irony: NONE of the comments from commercial/longline interests suggest dragging unguided anglers into any of this. In fact, the comments from the Halibut Coalition (the largest amalgam of commercial fishing groups), speak in defense of unguided anglers in response to the charters request to cut unguided limits along with the charter limits: (this is from page 5 of my attachment)
“[…]charter operators now voice concern that the CSP is unfair to charter operators because it does not include harvest controls on the unguided sport sector. While arguing for controls on subsistence and unguided fishermen, the charter industry fails to identity any problems caused by the unguided sport harvest that justify harvest controls. Instead, charter operators simply claim the CSP will drive clients to harvest halibut without their professional services and create safety issues because the charter industry views unguided fishing vessels as less safe than charter vessels.”
I did not suspect that it was going to be charter guys that tried to do the taking from regular sport fishermen. But ,what can you expect when there are business interests to be protected?
I say business interests because that’s really what’s at stake here. We hear a lot from some of the users on this forum, particular charter operators, with their concerns about fairness for charter clients who, after all, are just sport fishing license holders like the rest of us. Why are guided anglers being treated differently, they ask? These benevolent charter guys are simply looking out for their clients.
But, you know what? They aren’t really protecting their clients’ interests...nor do I think the fishery regulators (the NPFMC) are looking after those anglers. Take a look at the Council’s implementation committee. It’s nothing but a bunch of charter/lodge owners and operators. I don’t think there is a single sport angler to represent the interests of charter clients. We hear the charter guys worry about the 2-fish limit for their clients and there are a number of measures that could be taken to (attempt to) stay within the charter GHL, while preserving a 2-fish limit for the charter angler. A shorter halibut season for charters could have accomplished this. But, was that seriously looked at by a group of charter business owners? Hell no, it wasn’t. It’s not in their (charter) business interest.
I don’t want to hear a **** thing from charter guys about fairness to charter anglers when it certainly doesn’t look like they, themselves, are looking out for anything other than their own bottom line.
You know what, charter guys? I kept my nose out of how your sector dealt with its issues. I have two things to ask of you:
FIRST, don’t try to create issues for us, the unguided anglers. If you think you have issues with competition from rental boats or bare-boat charters, then deal with that.
SECOND, even if there is an issue that unguided anglers need to deal with, stay out of it. We can handle our own stuff, thank you very much. Sometimes, the general public sits idly by while the moneyed interests fight over the fish and, because of that apathy, the public interest suffers. Perhaps this is the issue that stirs the masses -- it should.
I’m sorry if any one feels that my comments have singled anyone out (that’s not my intent), or if it seems overly harsh on the charter sector…but the more that I have seen unfold in this past week, the more pissed off I have become.
I’ll follow up later with a little more about how, procedurally, this might play out through the Council and IPHC processes if the charter guys decide they want to continue down this road.