A federal agency that oversees halibut and other fish species has revised its definition of sport fishing guides, a decision that is splitting charter fishermen and could have larger impacts on sport fishing in the state.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council on Thursday adopted its new definition for “sports fishing guide services” as it relates to the charter halibut fishery in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. The definition covers anyone who provides “assistance, for compensation or with the intent to receive compensation, to a person who is sport fishing, to take or attempt to take halibut by accompanying or physically directing the sport fisherman in sport fishing activities during any part of a charter vessel fishing trip.”
NOAA Fisheries Service drafted the new classification to bring its federal definition in line with the one used by the State of Alaska. Currently, state guidelines allow for guided charters as well as unguided fishing, with different limitations on catch and daily take for each group.
NOAA Fisheries has said the new definition aims to close a “guide-assisted” loophole that allows unguided anglers to receive help from guides working from shore or on a different boat, while still allowing them to enjoy the “generally more liberal” regulations for unguided fishermen.
But SEAGO, the Southeast Alaska Guides Association, says the new definition is a solution in search of a problem.
“We don’t have a huge issue with this, but we don’t feel like this solves the problem it was intending to,” said SEAGO executive director Heath Hilyard.
Hilyard said, of the more than 300 halibut charters in the state, he expected the new definition to impact “may seven or eight” operators.
Despite the new classification not having a broad impact, Hilyard said SEAGO still opposes the regulation and said its passing “left the door open to address major issues with the guided and unguided fishing sectors.”
The new definition was met with its share of detractors, including written opposition from one such “guide-assisted” operation, Doc Warner’s Alaska Fishing.
“The self?guided sport fishing industry is equal in importance to the charter boat industry and should be recognized and treated as such,” wrote Mark C. Warner and Mark H. Warner of Doc Warner’s.
They argued the impact the new definition would have on “the population of halibut will not be measurable, but the impacts of the businesses and law enforcement will be overwhelmingly negative.”
With negligible gains to be had from enforcing the new definition, the Warners wrote that “the council would be better served addressing the by catch of the commercial fleet, the fairly unregulated and poorly controlled subsistence harvest, and other resource impactful activities.”
The council’s meeting continues this week in Seattle. Agenda, documents and more for the February meeting are available online.