Those of you tracking national legislation may have heard that Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is pushing forward a rewrite of the bill to reauthorize the MSA. Many of the proposals for change are coming from the recreational sector, which has a stronger national political position than ever before. SEAGO is excited about the opportunities this could bring Alaska in the long run, and remains cautious about some of the proposed changes in light of our unique situation in Alaska.
On its surface, increasing flexibility to modernize the MSA sounds like a great idea to account for the different management needs of the commercial and recreational fleet. When it comes to catching halibut in Alaska, however, the guided sportfishing fleet operates under a catch sharing plan with the commercial fleet. The allocation under our CSP is directly tied to the abundance of the halibut resource, and the success of the CSP requires an ongoing commitment to scientifically established annual catch limits, intended to protect our stock for the long term. Part of the proposals for amending the MSA ask Congress to disregard the existing science for creating annual catch limits, when what we need in Alaska is better data to work from.
If you want to protect our halibut and Chinook resources, we suggest advocating for improvements:
- Support Council actions implementing cost-effective electronic monitoring across the commercial fleet
- Support Council actions reducing bycatch of Pacific halibut and Chinook salmon, and tying bycatch to abundance
- Create and/or support improved practices for collecting unguided recreational catch data, such as smart phone apps
- Help create and/or support data collection for stock assessments, including vocally supporting MSA Reauthorization Sections aimed towards improving data collection and analysis
- Push for improving public access to the Council process
These are only a few of the concrete actions you can take which will contribute to improving the health of our halibut stock. A Commentary recently released by Council member Andy Mezirow also addresses this issue from an Alaskan perspective. Let us know if you have other suggestions!