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Protecting, Promoting, and Strengthening the Pacific Halibut Industry Since 1961

Updates for our Members

August 12, 2008
The summer season has progressed as expected with a smaller TAC than last year and lower prices starting out which have increased to some degree at each port. As of today, 66% of the catch limit has been harvested, exactly the percentage for this time last year. Surprising developments in the halibut charter and seafood sustainability issues are covered below. Following that, brief notes on small but important developments.

Halibut Charter issue

When the one-fish rule was finalized in May and took affect June 1, no one was surprised that the charter group sued the government. The dismay came at the lackluster defense put forth by the Justice Department in support of the rule, and in the puzzling judgments that followed.

HANA joined other groups to intervene in the legal process; the IPHC submitted an amicus curae brief. At this writing, the Halibut Coalition and all other petitioners who asked to intervene have not received an answer. Any appeal that could be brought by interveners or the defendants (Dept. of Justice) would not occur before the charter season is over for this year. Legal events seem to be at a standstill.

Sue Salveson, Assistant Regional Administrator for the Alaska Region of NMFS, told me last week that the agency is working on a rule for a one-fish charter fishery to take affect for 2009. Presumably it will be a rule that can withstand the legal challenge presented to the current rule last June.

Meanwhile estimates are that as much as 1.5 million pounds more fish may be taken when all the numbers are added up. We’ll get a first glance at preliminary numbers in a few months. I emphasize estimate in the 1.5 million because the media in Alaska has issued several stories about how charter operators and lodges are hurt by high fuel prices and a generally tight economy this summer.

How this will affect the Council’s work on final action for a catch sharing plan in 2C is yet unknown. They’ve scheduled the item for early in the September/October council meeting in Anchorage. The Halibut Coalition steering committee, of which HANA is a member, will meet in a few days to review the issue.

Sustainability Summit

In mid-July the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute held a high-level Sustainability Forum for Alaska seafood buyers and selected media. It was their vehicle for announcing that they are bowing out of the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification program (Denby Lloyd, Commissioner of Alaska Department of Fish & Game, subsequently sent MSC a letter declining participation in the program but felt sure MSC could find other clients for salmon.)

The Forum has had mostly positive results; many buyers and members of the media were grateful for ASMI’s straight talk about sustainability and clear descriptions of Alaska’s seafood management. ASMI took some risk in declaring their position; the marketing agency was one of the first to receive MSC certification and, as far as I know, the first to say “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The editor of SeaFood Business, one of the most widely read trade publications in the industry, wrote in mid-May that the definition of sustainability had changed in her mind, after she attended a keynote address “In Search of Sustainability” hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She said, “I no longer believe certification is the only avenue to sustainability,” and noted the use of “green washing” by environmentalists. “Green washing is misleading the public with propaganda designed to present an image of environmental responsibility,” she wrote. “Sustainable seafood really comes down to trusting not just a product, but the company behind it.”

Meanwhile Nielsen, the market research firm, and the Natural Market Institute produced a report in mid-July called “The Culture of Sustainability”. American consumers understand sustainability more thoroughly than before; their buying behaviors are profoundly affected by their perception of the company practicing sustainable principles.

Interestingly, though, they are extremely skeptical of company claims. Seventy percent of the general public surveyed agreed with the statement “I don’t always think companies are being genuine when they talk about how they help the environment or society.”

At a minimum, this all points to an opportunity for HANA to present clear, relevant information about the sustainable management of Pacific halibut in any future educational materials and on our website. One final comment on this subject: the sustainability concept is under direct attack by the charter industry with their five-year over harvest of the charter halibut GHL.


NMFS has proposed new procedures for complying with the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) when they develop fishery management plans. HANA, as a member of the Halibut Coalition, has signed on to a letter urging NMFS to consider a few changes. At issue are delays that have occurred in the past (i.e. halibut charter IFQs) while the proposed regulation was in NMFS hands, rather than the Secretary’s, and failed to timely address the fishery management issue.

The Halibut Coalition recommends that the Council, not NMFS, prepare NEPA documents and that once the Council has reached a final decision on a management action, NMFS cannot refuse to submit the documents to the Secretary for review. The Secretary may disapprove the Council’s submission, but it is the Councils’, not the agency’s decision when to submit.

A portion of an email we got from Council member Gerry Merrigan: “This has process implications way beyond the halibut issue. The Council has submitted comments as well as the CCC (all Councils.) There is a very large push from the environmental community to withdraw this proposed rule in order to re-issue a rule which would subsume the Council process into NEPA—which is directly opposite of Congressional intent and floor language in the MSA [Magnuson-Stevens Act] re-authorization.”

I’ll keep a close eye on this. Final public comments were submitted today.

Small but Important

Whole Foods announced a new aquaculture sourcing policy last month, asking suppliers for third-party certifications and assuring customers that responsible fish farming can be environmentally friendly and reduce the pressure on wild-capture fish.

Three Sitka subsistence fishermen pleaded guilty to selling and shipping subsistence-caught halibut. The NMFS investigation revealed that more than 10,000 pounds of subsistence-caught halibut was sold to a Seattle wholesaler for more than $50,000 in 2003. The U.S. Attorney got guilty pleas from all three for violating the Lacey Act. The mastermind was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of $40,000. The other two had lesser sentences.

For the first time ever, ocean acidification was found less than 20 miles off the coast of western North America. In May the online journal Science Express published a report that corrosive water was now on the continental shelf of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Earlier studies found ocean acidification at deeper depths farther from shore.

“We did not expect to see this extent of ocean acidification until the middle to the end of the century,” said the author of the report. “We do know that organisms like corals or pteropods are affected by water saturated with CO2. The impacts on other species, such as shellfish and other juvenile fish that have economic significance, are not yet fully understood.”

Sept. 4, 2008 IPHC Workshop on apportionment, Seattle
Sept. 29-Oct. 7, 2008 NPFMC, Anchorage
Nov. 19-20, 2008 IPHC Interim Meeting, Seattle
Dec. 8-16, 2008 NPFMC, Anchorage
Jan.13-16, 2009 IPHC 85th Annual Meeting, Vancouver, B.C., Marriott Pinnacle