The massive Omnibus spending bill recently passed by Congress and slated for the President’s signature contains language authorizing the development of a halibut stamp for the Alaska charter sector. The stamp, which will collect fees from guided halibut anglers, is the final piece of the Recreational Quota Entity (RQE) program which allows for transfer of halibut between commercial and recreational sectors in Alaska.

“We’ve labored well over a decade to bring this to a reality” said Tom Ohaus, president and founder of Southeast Alaska Guides Organization (SEAGO) who saw the need for a way to move fish to the recreational charter fleet. “It became clear that uncompensated reallocation of halibut to the charter sector was too heavy a lift for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. We needed a free market transfer mechanism.” remarked Ohaus.

The authority granted to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) allows for the regulatory development of a fee collection program subject to final approval by the Secretary of Commerce. The program will likely take the form of an electronic fee stamp required for all charter halibut anglers, similar to the State of Alaska’s king stamp. NPFMC staff have analyzed annual stamp revenue for both areas 2C and 3A based on fees of $10, $15, or $20 for a day stamp, $20, $30, or $40 for a three-day stamp, and $30, $45, or $60 for a seven-day stamp.

SEAGO board member Richard Yamada, who deserves great credit for both the concept and development of the RQE program, is the current director of the CATCH Association (Catch Accountability Through Compensated Halibut) which was granted control of the RQE through application to the North Council. Yamada will be central to the final development of the fee collection program and RQE administrative structure, a process shared between RQE officers and staff, and the NPFMC and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) who have full oversight.

The RQE is eligible to hold up to 10% of total commercial halibut quota in 2C (maximum annual transfer of 1%), and up to 12% (maximum annual transfer of 1.2%) in 3A which adds to the base Catch Sharing Plan charter allocation. For the 2022 season, 10% would have equated to an additional 350,000 pounds in 2C or a gain of roughly 6 inches on the lower slot size. In 3A, a full 12% would have added 1,146,000 pounds creating a bigger allocation than the 2022 analysis addresses, though it’s certain to have eliminated all day closures and raised the second fish to something above 32”.

Transfers are market-based, meaning they depend on a willing buyer and willing seller at an agreed to price. The timeline to reach fully funded quota pools in either area is unknown, but benefits to charter anglers will be measurable in the process. NPFMC sport representative Andy Mezirow, who’s shepherding has been key in moving the RQE through the Council process, is hopeful to see an RQE stamp generating money and buying quota as early as 2024.

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