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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Alaska Recreational Charter Boat Operator Research Development

On 5 January 2010, NMFS issued a final rule establishing a limited entry permit system for charter vessels in the guided halibut sport fishery in International Pacific Halibut Commission Areas 2C (Southeast Alaska) and 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska) (75FR554). This permit system is intended to address concerns about the growth of fishing capacity in this fishery sector, which accounts for a substantial portion of the overall recreational halibut catch in Alaska.

The limited entry program is separate from other policies intended to regulate harvest of halibut by the guided fishing sector, such as the guideline harvest limit (GHL) policy established in 2003, which sets an acceptable limit on the amount of halibut that can be harvested by the recreational charter fishery during a year and establishes a process for the NPFMC to initiate harvest restrictions in the event that the limit is met or exceeded.

At present, numerous harvest restrictions may be adopted by the Council in the event the GHL is surpassed, including several that would affect the charter boat industry, such as restrictions on client or crew fishing behavior (e.g., bag and size limits).

To assess the effect of regulatory restrictions (current or potential) on charter operator behavior and welfare, it is necessary to first obtain a better general understanding of the charter industry. Some information useful for this purpose is already collected from existing sources, such as logbook data. However, information on vessel and crew characteristics, services offered to clients, spatial and temporal aspects of their operations and fishing behavior, and costs and earnings information are generally not available from these existing data sources and, thus, must be collected directly from the industry through voluntary interviews or a survey. However, past debates over management of the halibut charter fishery were very divisive and created a political climate that was not conducive for a study like this one that depends upon voluntary responses.

Meetings with representatives of the charter boat industry were held in September 2008 in Homer and Sitka. Attendees expressed concern about the amount of information they might be asked to provide and their time costs associated with possible data collections but also were supportive of the idea of collecting information necessary for NMFS to better understand the charter boat harvest sector.

During 2010, AFSC researchers began evaluating existing data sources, developing potential survey materials, and evaluating data collection methods that would minimize the burden on survey respondents and maximize response rates. In addition, AFSC researchers commissioned the development of a customized Web-based mapping application to collect and manage charter fishing trip information. The application will allow the capture of spatial information about charter trips, either by survey researchers or by charter vessel operators themselves, via password-protected entry to a secure website where they can input confidential data.

AFSC researchers plan to use the information collected and stored with this software, in conjunction with the data collection survey results, to evaluate the spatial and temporal behavioral patterns of Alaskan charter fishing vessel owners to provide further insights on the effects of fisheries regulations on the charter fishing industry. The software is adaptable to the collection of spatial information in trip-based surveys in other recreational, charter, and commercial fishery research applications.

By Brian Garber-Yonts, Dan Lew, and Amber Himes

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