Anyone who's taken a guided halibut fishing trip in Alaska these last few years knows that the law requires of you an affidavit testifying to having caught a fish.
This law is enforced by the State of Alaska Fish & Wildlife and the Federal Government through NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service and enforcement is accomplished by means of a logbook of which your fishing guide is required to keep current and submit weekly. Guides are required to enter your fishing license number, full name and residency status each day fishing and are also required to counter sign the affidavit. If you do not sign the logbook after catching a halibut you will be charged and fined.
You signed the logbook after you caught the halibut, end of story? Why was the signature necessary?
The story behind the signature rule goes back to 1976 and the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
This law evicted foreign fishing fleets from US waters and increased the price of groundfish for American fishermen making hook and line fishing for halibut and black cod or "long-lining" suddenly profitable for smaller vessels.
The fishery became crowded and so the decision was made in 1995 to give private ownership of the resource to a group of fishermen from a 5 year period. The amount of their share of this resource was based on poundage they delivered during that time. Unfortunately, due to the extremely competitive nature of the fishery cheating was common and those boldest about it were rewarded handsomely.
After the commercial halibut fishery had been turned to IFQ (Individual Fishing Quota) attention began to focus on the burgeoning charter fleet. Many tourists were coming to Alaska and business was booming. Even with halibut sport fishing limits in place concern was growing among the commercial halibut fishermen that the charter fleet was catching too much of the resource.
"A little history is also in order. The commercial and charter fisheries have been wrangling over halibut allocation since 1993. The conflict began when the commercial stakeholders asked for a cap on charter harvest, the fastest growing segment of the sport fishery. The problem was that charter harvest was deducted "off the top" of each year's allowable fishery removals before setting the commercial catch limit, which amounted to a de facto allocation of fish to the charter fishery. Growth in charter harvest had to be offset by a lowering of the commercial catch limit. The council struggled with the allocation issue for years before adopting guideline harvest levels, or GHLs, for the charter fishery in the fall of 2003."
Logbooks were required for sport fishing businesses and knowing how the commercial halibut fishermen had been made wealthy overnight by the federal government they surmised that the logbooks would be used for the tentative "sport IFQ" being proposed and so accordingly maxed out every halibut log entry every day of fishing in speculation of a future asset windfall.
In order to counter this obvious gaming of the system is was required that both the guide and the sport fisherman sign an affidavit to the catch.
in 2010 a "Limited Entry" program was adopted instead of IFQs for the sport fleet. The charter businesses who had submitted logbooks during a three year period would now get a limited access permit worth roughly $35,000 and the number of halibut they had caught during those years and now recorded on the logbook would never be used for any sport halibut IFQ program. The incentive to over-report halibut catches in the logbook had become irrelevant. In essence the signature had become an useless regulation.
So why, seven years later, are we still required to sign the logbook you ask? Why, when out enjoying a vacation, must we be reminded that the Nanny-state is peering over our shoulder waiting to pounce and inflict damage over a clerical error?
Our lovable new president claims that 75% of regulation could be eliminated. A common claim is that there is $200 billion worth of drag annually on the American economy in worthless regulations.
I am sure Alaska State Troopers and NMFS officers that enforce our fishing laws would rather not be bad guys over clerical errors with no meaning. They are far happier when they can save the day and be heroes.
An effort should be made to keep the public view of enforcement a positive one. Compliance with the law is a subtle thing. Attitude makes a difference. The logbook data would be more accurate if it was not required but volunteered by the sport fishing guides who's livelihoods rely on the health of the resource. The sportsman ethic is after all where the modern day environmental movement gets its roots and many sport fishermen are very conservation minded.
The signature requirement and obvious unnecessary-ness coupled with the threat of legal jeopardy creates a negative ecosystem in which charter guides may become demoralized and hostile. An outlaw mentality is more likely to develop along with an us-against-them attitude. On an otherwise fun day it creates a dark spot for an American citizen who is only trying to catch fish for personal consumption and enjoy his or her vacation. The time and effort that is required by the charter guide to call everyones attention to the signature requirement, explain to them what it is for and convince them to sign it, and the time taken from the sport fisherman who paid for the trip amounts to a de facto tax.
So! Would you like to take a moment and do something positive today? Even a very small action if done in mass may have a large effect.
The Federal Government is a big, deaf giant and asking NOAA to get rid of a needless "Got-ya" regulation that allows someone to justify a position is probably not going to do much.
However, tourism is worth a lot to the economy of Alaska and we have a few Congressional Representatives that know how to protect Alaskan interests and get things done.
I would direct your comments to one or all of the Congressional Representatives below. Perhaps "Nuclear Halibut" would make a good subject line and a copy of this post might be a way to go.
If you are a fisherman from another state that enjoys Alaska, contacting your own Congressional Representative may also be helpful.
Thank you for your time.
Denny Corbin, Guide, Lisianski Inlet Lodge, Pelican, Alaska
Senator Lisa Murkowski
Senator Dan Sullivan
Congressman Don Young