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NOAA responds to requests, extends comment period for halibut catch sharing plan

NOAA Fisheries is extending the public comment period for the proposed halibut catch sharing plan by 14 days, after receiving a number of requests for additional time for public input. 
 
The Proposed Rule to Implement a Halibut Catch Sharing Plan for Guided Sport and Commercial Fisheries in Alaska published in the Federal Register on June 28, opening a 45-day public comment period which would have closed on August 12. With the 14-day extension, comments are now due August 26.  
 
Most requests submitted to NOAA sought a comment period extension of 45 days, noting the comment period falls at the height of fishing season in Alaska, and fishermen who might want to comment are out on the water and may be unable to submit comments by deadline.
 
NOAA has carefully considered these requests, and we recognize the concerns of working fishermen who want the opportunity to comment on the proposed rule. To allow for greater opportunity for public input, NOAA has determined that the agency can grant an extension for 14 days, until August 26.This allows for a comment period of two months. An extension longer than this would jeopardize implementation of the catch sharing plan for the 2014 fishing season should NOAA proceed with a final rule after considering public comment. 
 
“The halibut catch sharing plan has been developed through the collaborative effort and hard work of many people over several years, and through a transparent and robust public input process,” said Alaskan regional administrator Dr. James Balsiger. “We strongly encourage folks to take the time to sit down and read the actual text of the plan so they’ll have the facts before commenting.” 
 
Balsiger added that NOAA Fisheries expects to receive thousands of comments on the proposed rule, which will need to be analyzed and responded to if a final rule is to be published in late 2013 to allow for implementation for the 2014 charter halibut fishery.
 
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended the catch sharing plan to establish a clear allocation between the commercial and charter sectors in southeast Alaska and the central Gulf of Alaska, provide stability for affected halibut fishery participants, and provide halibut fishery managers with greater precision in setting halibut catch limits and management measures that are responsive to annual changes in halibut exploitable biomass and fishing effort. In recommending the catch sharing plan, the council urged NOAA Fisheries to implement the catch sharing plan for the 2014 fishing season.
 
The combined catch limit would be determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission each year prior to the fishing season. Under the catch sharing plan, the allocations to the charter and commercial sectors would vary directly with annual changes in halibut abundance, with relatively higher allocations to the charter sector in years of low abundance, when that sector would most be affected by a lower combined catch limit. Charter harvest restrictions, such as a daily bag limit, would be specified annually prior to the upcoming fishing season based on projected harvests and charter catch limits—similar to the management approach that has been used for the past two years. The proposed catch sharing plan would not affect halibut harvest limits in place for unguided anglers.
 
Address comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, and identified by FDMS Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2011-0180. Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:
 
• Electronic Submission: via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov
• Mail: P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668
• Fax: 907-586-7557
 
A copy of the proposed halibut catch sharing plan is available online at the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region website: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/
 
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