Charter Log newsletter

Terry Johnson, Editor

December 2011


Halibut Catch Limits

The International Pacific Halibut Commission staff announced two separate sets of recommendations for 2012 catch limits. The official recommendation, based on currently used harvest rates, provides for total catch limits below. Numbers for Area 2C (southeast Alaska) are up modestly, while 3A is taking a hit.

Area 2C charter GHL would be 931,000 lb (up from 788,000 lb in 2010 and 2011) and Area 3A charter GHL would be 3,103,000 lb, down from 3,650,000 lb the last two years.

Area 2011 Catch Limit, lb 2012 Recommendation, lb
2A 910,000 989,000
2B 7,650,000 6,633,000
2C 2,330,000 2,624,000
3A 14,360,000 11,918,000
3B 7,510,000 5,070,000
4A 2,410,000 1,567,000
4B 2,180,000 1,869,000
4CDE 3,720,000 2,465,000
Total 41,070,000 33,135,000

However, that’s only part of the story. The staff did an extensive review of the methodology it has been using and concluded that adjusted harvest rates are warranted. Under revised HRs, the 2012 catch limit for Area 2C would be just 1,064,000 lb and for 3A only 5,286,000 lb. Total 2012 catch limit would shrink by more than half to 15,350,000 lb. The 2C GHL would remain at 788,000 lb but the 3A GHL would shrink to 2,008,000 lb.

IPHC biologist Steven Hare says the recommended catch limits under current HRs remain the staff’s official recommendation for the 2012 season, but says even if the commission accepts the recommendation this time around, the staff has served notice that the harvestable biomass is much smaller than previously calculated and dramatic reductions in allowable catches are coming.

Halibut Conflicts Escalate

The Alaska Dispatch reports that the Prince William Sound Charter Boat Association is going to the Board of Fisheries in an attempt to get commercial halibut fishing prohibited in PWS and adjacent waters. The paper also says that the Alaska Outdoors Council is supporting the effort. The proposal is being heard by the BOF at its December meeting in Valdez.

The Dispatch quotes Valdez charter operator Dave Pope as saying that commercial longliners use charter boats as spotters to find fish. Pope says that after he locates fish commercial longliners steam to the area to set their gear, causing his clients to abandon any hope of catching fish.

The petition to the BOF claims that it is necessary to ban halibut longlining from PWS and the Copper River coast because the commercial fisheries are causing serious nearshore depletion.

Charter Halibut within Allocation

The charter halibut catch in southeast Alaska was within the GHL in 2011 for the first time in seven years. Well within, as it turns out. In fact the charter fleet landed only 388,000 lb of its 790,000 allocation. That is a decline from just over a million pounds in 2010.

The decrease in landings has been attributed to negative publicity over management measures that limit guided halibut anglers to a maximum size of just 37 inches. They also were limited to a single fish per day, a limit that first went into effect in 2009.

Charter operators consider the measures draconian as well as unnecessary, in light of a license limitation scheme that also went into effect in 2011. They say that the combination of a one-fish limit and the 37 inch rule has discouraged both those anglers seeking to fill the freezer and those wanting to land a trophy size fish. They say that total landing would have been even smaller were it not for the “hostage clients” who had already booked and paid for their trips in southeast Alaska before the measures became known.

Indications are that many anglers who had planned to fish with southeast Alaska charter operators shifted instead to southcentral ports like Homer and Seward where the restrictive measures didn’t apply, or went somewhere else altogether for their summer sport fishing.

Juneau Dude Fishing

A Juneau commercial fisherman has moved into the visitor industry by taking paying crewmembers out halibut longlining in a business called Alaskan Longliner. Andy Massey, a career commercial fisherman, is taking advantage of a 2007 law, sometimes called the Dude Fishing bill, which allows the purchase of a seven-day crew license to work aboard a commercial fishing vessel. However, in this kind of operation, the crew pays the skipper—not the other way around.

Massey charges clients $279 for a six- to eight-hour day trip, and buys the temporary crew license from his fee. He can carry a maximum of six paying crewmembers under Coast Guard provisions for uninspected passenger vessels. He also offers a multiday option. No sport fishing is permitted aboard the boat and all fish landed are sold under IFQ regulations, although his clients may repurchase fish they helped catch at $8.50 per lb.

Massey began crewing on halibut boats in 1975, and in 1998 invested his savings in quota shares, at that time equivalent to 23,000 lb of halibut. However, by 2005 IPHC quota reductions had reduced his holdings to a mere 4,900 lb, so he looked for a way to obtain more income from his shares.

Visitors who book a trip aboard Massey’s boat Tia Lynn are outfitted in raingear and taught how to bait, set, and haul gear. On a day trip they set and haul four skates. For safety reasons they are not allowed to wield a knife or gaff.

Massey’s website is headlined with the line “Don’t go fishing, go catching!”

Beware E15

Beware of high ethanol E15 gasoline.

The ethanol industry and the farm lobby have convinced the EPA to allow fuel manufacturers to increase the level of ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent, starting in January 2012. It is unknown when, and if, E15 will appear in Alaska, but the boating industry is warning boat owners to avoid it.

A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that E15 damages outboard motors and can cause numerous problems with inboard, outboard, and stern drive marine engines. Tests conducted on two-stroke and four-stroke Mercury engines in three horsepower classes found that the fuel caused increased fuel consumption, increased emissions, degraded performance, damage, and in one case complete failure of an engine.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association lobbied unsuccessfully to prevent introduction of the new fuel after earlier studies showed degraded fuel system materials and other problems. The association has been warning boaters about the fuel.

The EPA approved E15 as an automobile fuel only, and only for vehicles built in 1991–2006. It is not approved for boats, snowmachines, and other gasoline engines, and regulations will require gas stations to clearly mark E15 pumps with a warning about unapproved uses. However, NMMA and other industry groups, including the National Association of Independent Gasoline Marketers, have protested to the EPA about the E15 approval. The dealers fear liability for damage to engines caused by use of the fuel by customers who don’t heed the warnings.

While it is unlikely that E15 will show up at marine fuel docks, boaters who take fuel at gas stations need to be alert to any signs indicating it is being sold for automobile use.

Buoy Deployed, Goes Walkabout

wave buoyCook Inlet mariners, including charter boat operators from Homer to Ninilchik, responded enthusiastically to first results from a new wave buoy that was deployed last May off Anchor Point. However, the success was short-lived when the mooring cable apparently was accidentally cut by a transiting vessel and the buoy “went walkabout” according to Molly McCammon, executive director of the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS), the agency that owns and manages the buoy. The three-foot-diameter, 400 lb sphere was recovered and has been stored in Homer until it can be repaired and redeployed sometime in the spring.

The bright yellow buoy was tethered to 1,800 lb of ballast chain, and equipped with a flashing light. AOOS consulted with the vessel identification system managed by the Marine Exchange of Alaska but determined that the vessel that cut the tether was not registered with the MXAK monitoring system, so its identification is unknown.

The buoy, which provides wave height and direction as well as surface temperature information, was considered useful to commercial and recreational fishermen, the shipping and oil and gas industries, oil spill responders, and resource managers. It is part of the national Coastal Data Information Program, and purchase and deployment were assisted by the Army Corps of Engineers, Scripps Oceanographic Institute, the Coast Guard, NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.

When redeployed the buoy will resume flashing a pattern of five flashes, two seconds apart, followed by a two-second pause.

Correction on Rescue 21

In the last issue of The Log we reported that the VHF-based Rescue 21 search and rescue communication project was, according to our source, not likely to become operational in Alaska.

Subsequently, and unrelated to the article, the CG District 17 issued a press release stating that Cmdr. Dennis Evans is taking command of the project. He replaces the retiring Cmdr. Joseph Calnan, who remains in Juneau and is pursuing a career in engineering and project management. In a follow-up interview with LtCmdr Starling Jinright, The Log learned that far from abandoning the program, the Coast Guard has plans for partial implementation on an accelerated schedule, and in the longer term still intends to activate a total of 60 repeater sites on the Alaska coast. The plan calls for getting 30 of those sites operational in 2013 using transmitters already in place for other purposes, and adding the other 30, mostly new installations, by 2021.

The catch is that the plan will be implemented “if funding comes through,” according to LtCmdr Jinright. Given the current mood in Congress, most federal funding in all but the short term is uncertain. Stay tuned for updates. Meanwhile, Rescue 21 is for all practical purposes inoperative in Alaska.

Nevertheless, nationally the Coast Guard continues to urge mariners to obtain Maritime Mobile Station Identity registration and enter the MMSI numbers into their radios. Furthermore, they recommend linking the radio to the vessel’s GPS so it can broadcast instant identity and position information. The Coast Guard says that of all distress calls received nationally, 90 percent do not contain position information and 60 percent don’t have registered identity.

Although that information would not be received directly by the Coast Guard via a DSC call in Alaska, other vessels with DSC radios may be able to pick up the calls with the data encoded and either respond directly or relay the information to the Coast Guard.

Medical Emergencies

If there’s anything no operator wants to think about, it’s a medical emergency. Mandatory first aid/CPR training does little to relieve the anxiety that a passenger may be injured, suffer a heart attack, or otherwise require medical assistance.

Fortunately most onboard injuries are of the slip-trip-fall type, but even those can be serious if the victim is elderly or overweight. Onboard medical kits tend to have lots of band-aids and over-the-counter medications but not much for more serious conditions.

An article in a recent issue of BoatU.S. Magazine offers the following tips:

A Washington state–based physician and boater, Dr. Mark Anderson, maintains a website that has a great deal of marine-related medical advice, and provides guidelines on things like how to determine if chest pain is a heart attack, diagnosing appendicitis, treating seasickness, and choosing contents of an onboard medical kit. Take a look at the Riparia Resources website.

Medical Review Standards

Mariners in some parts of the country are complaining that they have been denied license renewal or renewal was delayed due to apparently stricter medical review standards.

The National Maritime Center last spring made changes to its medical evaluations division designed to improve customer service. But at the same time proposed changes to the STCW standards would require two year medical certificate intervals rather than five, resulting in potential for substantial delays in processing.

A recent article in WorkBoat magazine says that incomplete medical applications currently account for most delays in license renewals, even though the denial rate is only 1.7 percent. Part of the issue is that many family physicians don’t understand the requirements of the license medical exam forms and don’t provide the correct information on the forms.

In the view of some mariners, however, the problem goes beyond physician education. The WorkBoat article cites maritime industry employers who say they are losing senior captains and mates who are forcibly retired due to inability to pass medical exams. Most of the problems are age-related chronic conditions that shouldn’t prevent experienced individuals from performing normal duties. The article cites Coast Guard sources in listing the five most common conditions that disqualify mariners: cardiac (heart) disease, diabetes, psychotic disorders, sleep apnea, and chronic use of narcotics or medications based on benzodiazepine drugs, which are depressants used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and muscle spasms. Evaluation guidelines can be found at the USCG National Maritime Center website.

More on this topic is in the December 2011 issue of WorkBoat.

New Weight Calculations Required

Operators of inspected passenger vessels should by now be aware that the Coast Guard is applying new passenger weight calculations for determining vessel stability and capacity. The new factor, which went into effect on Dec. 1, 2011, sets 185 lb per person as the basis for doing stability and capacity calculations, up from the 140 or 160 lb, depending on kind of operation, which was previously in effect.

The Coast Guard proposed the new rule in 2008 after two accidents in which a total of 25 people died. The tragedies were blamed on instability resulting from excess weight, despite the fact that both boats were operating within the limits of their certificate of inspection. National health data show that Americans as a nation have been gaining weight, making the old stability calculations inaccurate.

WorkBoat magazine reports that operators now are required to send the Captain of the Port a letter that states that the company is complying with the new stability standards and explains how the stability calculation was done within provisions of the new standard. The Coast Guard will review the letter and reply that the agency is satisfied with the explanation or will require revision of the letter or the boat.

A problem with the change is that it will result in reduced passenger capacity for many vessels. Owners may have options for adapting: limiting passenger access to upper decks, and sponsoning or widening the hull. Boat designers and builders, logically enough, are encouraging owners to replace older boats, especially those with narrow hulls and high superstructures, with new vessels.

The new rule directly pertains only to Subchapter T inspected vessels, not to uninspected “six pack” boats. However, owners of all recreational and uninspected commercial boats need to remember that capacity plates and other passenger limit determinations were probably calculated based on the old passenger body weight standards and they would be prudent to review their capacities to ensure that they are adequate for today’s beefier clientele.

NOAA Saltwater Recreational Fishing Plan

NOAA has released its first national saltwater recreational fishing action agenda, which includes four goals and nine objectives specifically for Alaska. In announcing the project the agency emphasized that it is designed to “help improve fishing opportunities and address recreational fishing priorities” in each of the nation’s six coastal regions. It is not a fisheries management plan and does not include any regulations or restrictions on angling. Projects address five action goals that were identified at the Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit, held in 2010:

According to the NOAA press release saltwater sport fishing nationally supports $50 billion in economic activity per year and 326,000 jobs. It says that 11 million saltwater anglers took 73 million fishing trips last year.

Alaska data cited in the report, from 2009, indicate that saltwater anglers fished 914,000 days and spend more than $407 million.

Goals for Alaska include:

You can read the Alaska Region Saltwater Recreational Fishing Action Agenda [PDF] at NOAA Fisheries' Recreational Fishing in Alaska website.

Sport Fish Guide Board Bill

The Alaska Senate will consider a bill when it reconvenes in 2012 that would establish a body known as “sport fishing guide services board” and would impose licensing requirements for fishing guides, outfitters, assistant guides, and transporters.

Introduced by Sen. Lesil McGuire of Anchorage, SB 24 is controversial within the industry, as evidenced by email communication and comments on outdoors discussion boards.

The narrative from Sen. McGuire’s office says that the bill has two goals: “to assure that Alaska’s sport fishing services continue to compete favorable [sic] in the marketplace with the best in the world” and to assure that “as the state’s valuable fishery resources are invested in the sport fishing services industry, the State of Alaska is doing so as would a diligent investor in any business.”

Sen. McGuire’s office says these goals would be achieved by establishing “a more accurate, stable and appropriate regulatory framework.” It adds that by shifting regulation of the industry from ADFG to a sport fish guide services board within the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, the sportfishing guides would be placed alongside “other analogous industry groups.”

The narrative notes that in 2007 guided sport fishing contributed an estimated $641 million to the state economy and supported 7183 jobs. An average of 1670 businesses bought sport fishing business licenses, and 1981 guide licenses were issued, of which 90 percent went to Alaska residents.

The accompanying problem statement states that there is no common sportfishing voice within state government, and there are no ethical standards of conduct, safety, or service for the industry.

It claims a benefit of “legitimizing the sportfishing profession” and will bring stability to the industry. It claims that enactment will increase economic value to $1.4 billion and provide 16,000 jobs, though it doesn’t specify how enacting the bill will more than double economic value and employment.

If anyone knows what all that means, it is not clear from comments on the discussion boards. Bristol Bay lodge owner Bud Hodson writes that the real intent is to establish limited entry on the guide industry, and says that it violates the state constitution and a similar attempt a couple of years ago was shot down by the industry. He says it’s a bad bill that would burden the industry with extra regulation and paperwork. Others agree it’s an end-run at limited entry, but that would be a good thing. Some believe it’s being pushed by Kenai River guides who want to limit competition, some think it’s a safety measure, and some think it is intended to create an apprentice system. One opinion is that by making guides scarcer it will raise their value and force lodge owners to pay them more.

Read the full contents of SB 24 [PDF] and follow bill progress on the State Legislature BASIS website.


Rockfish Release

Everyone knows that demersal or deepwater bottom-dwelling rockfish do not fare well when brought to the surface, but not everyone knows what to do to increase the chances of the fish’s survival if released. ADFG (see Rockfish Conservation and Deepwater Release) and private industry both offer tips and methodologies for getting rockfish back to depth where the chance for recompression is best.

Unlike salmon and halibut, rockfish have a swim bladder filled with gases that expand when the fish is brought up from depths of more than ten fathoms. Eyes bulge out, the stomach protrudes from the mouth, and the fish is incapacitated and unable to swim. Chances of survival if released in that condition are virtually zero.

In the past some people have advocated “venting” rockfish by poking a hollow needle into the swim bladder to allow gas to escape. Although this may allow the fish to swim back down to the bottom, survival is believed to be low, due to infection and the likelihood that other organs are punctured by the measure.

ADFG’s sport fish staff has issued a short publication at describes how to release rockfish successfully using a simple deepwater release device, made from an inverted lead head jig. Simply use the lead head and hook of a 24 oz jig, pinch down the hook barb, and attach line or cable to the bend of the hook rather than to the eye of the jig. If you need additional weight, attach a small spherical weight to the eye of the jig.

When a rockfish is brought up, push the tip of the jig hook through the soft tissue of the lower jaw, from the inside, and then swing the fish over the side. Let out line or cable from a reel or downrigger so the weight takes the fish to the bottom. When it reaches the bottom, jerk on the line to release the hook from the fish’s mouth

Oregon State University also published a rockfish release bulletin, which advocated placing the hook in the upper jaw. The OSU publication illustrates a purpose-made device called the Shelton Fish Descender, which has a piece of bent wire to do the hook’s job, and relies for weight on a separate sinker attached to the bottom of the rig. The same publication illustrates use of a weighted milk crate that can be dropped over the fish and lowered to a sufficient depth before pulling up and releasing the fish. The OSU publication, "Release Methods for Rockfish," is on the Oregon Sea Grant website; see ORESU-G-05-001 [PDF] or ORESU-G-05-001 [HTML].

rockfish release toolAce Calloway, a former Alaska charter operator, has designed the BlackTip Catch & Release Recompression Tool (pictured), which won the grand prize in West Marine’s second annual Green Product of the Year contest. It consists of a 1 foot long x 1.5 inch metal tube with connecting snaps on both ends and a sliding rod in the center that activates a set of jaws on the side that grip the fish’s lower lip. A 3 lb weight is attached to the lower snap, which pulls the jaws tight. The device with fish attached is lowered until the weight hits bottom, which relieves the tension and opens the jaws so the fish can swim free. The device sells for $32 at West Marine.

Regardless of the device chosen, the first principle of rockfish conservation is avoiding catching them in the first place. They tend to prefer rocky bottoms and edges, so the best halibut ground generally doesn’t have many rockfish. If one is caught, it’s time to move before catching another.

Other tips:


Paddlesport Training

The American Canoe Association is bringing its National Paddlesports Instruction program to Alaska this summer to provide training to persons who want instructor certification to lead or train other paddlers. The Alaska course, scheduled for May 15-17, 2012, is Introduction to Kayaking Instructor Certification Workshop.

The ACA was awarded a grant from the Coast Guard to develop the program, which is intended to promote safe paddlesport activities, and to facilitate communication between user groups and government agencies. Course participants will receive quality instruction and four years membership in the ACA Safety Education and Instruction Council. They will receive educational materials to use in their own training activities, and will have access to equipment for their use.

The ACA program is known as the “gold standard” of paddlesport education in the U.S. Course curriculum was developed by the ACA national office and the Safety Education and Instruction Council. ACA courses cover adaptive paddling, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, safety and rescue, and stand-up paddleboarding.

The ACA offers four types of courses: skills, skills assessment, certifications (Instructor Certification Workshops), and specialized course instructor endorsements.

More information is on the American Canoe Association website.