Charter Boat Fishery
The charter halibut industry has seen double-digit annual growth in the North Pacific in recent years. In Alaska, the fishery is managed by the state and federal government using a Guideline Harvest Level (GHL)an amount of halibut allowed to harvest that changes with the overall population of halibut stocks.
In 1995, a management plan for halibut charter boat operators was proposed that mimicked the commercial halibut fleets Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) plan. The plan was scrapped just before its final approval, nearly ten years later. In that time, the charter industry in Alaska grew dramatically. In 2005, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council began a new approach to managing the charter halibut industry, which is on-going today. An interim management plan will likely be in place in 2009 with a permanent plan one or two years later.
The urgent concern of the Council and other halibut managers is over-fishing occurring in the charter industry. As a whole, the sector has exceeded its GHL for four years (since 2004) in a row. In some cases, theyve exceeded their limit by more than 40%.
In 2007, a proposal to restrict the harvest was introduced and went through the lengthy public process at the Council. In June 2008 the rule took affect. It called for a one-fish reduction in the catch limit (from two halibut per day) for charter boat anglers in Southeast Alaska only. (Non-charter, recreational fishermen could continue to keep two fish per day.) Within a week a group of charter boat owners sued the government for improper rule-making. Their intent was to stop the rule long enough to guarantee a 2-fish daily limit for the 2008 summer season. The case was approved by a Washington, D.C. judge and the two-fish limit was reinstated.
As a founding member of the Halibut Coalition (an industry group dedicated to protecting the sustainability of Pacific halibut), HANA joined with several other groups to intervene in the lawsuit. The IPHC filed an amicus curae brief to inform the court of the background of the rule and the ramifications of a restraining order.
National Marine Fisheries Service is working on a new rule which would have the same effect for the 2009 season. The legal process regarding the lawsuit continues. Meanwhile, the charter halibut industry landed more fish this season. All indications are that the GHL will be exceeded for the fifth year in a row.
For more information, go to www.halibutcoalition.org
Mercury is found in many fish, mostly in trace quantities that are far below the stringent levels allowed by federal governments. These standards vary from country to country. Even within a country, different levels trigger different warnings from state to state.
Recent research shows that selenium in seafood counteracts mercury's toxicity. Since selenium tends to be abundant in seafoods, measuring methylmercury index alone may not give an accurate assessment of risk from fish consumption. If selenium is evident in the right quantity, it can combine with methyl mercury and result in zero toxicity for the consumer. The latest research on selenium and mercury is published in NeuroToxicology. (833KB PDF file - Adobe Acrobat required)
Commercially caught halibut is extremely low in mercury, containing half or a third of the U.S. Food & Drug Administrations allowable level. Health professionals recognize that the nutritional benefits of eating halibut far outweigh any risk, and encourage all consumers to include halibut in a healthy diet.
Seafoods considered high in mercury are large fish like shark, swordfish, marlin, king mackerel, and tilefish. These predatory fish eat other fish, accumulating mercury.
State, provincial and federal agencies in Canada and the U.S. conduct on-going studies monitoring mercury levels in recreational fish and commercially-caught seafood. The State of Alaska has conducted an on-going survey of several species of fish since 1991.
For more information from the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Fish Facts and Consumption Guide visit http://www.epi.hss.state.ak.us/eh/fish/default.htm
Learn more about Canadian standards at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/advisories-avis/_2007/2007_31-eng.php
Visit http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html for more information on the Food & Drug Administrations research on mercury.