Dear Chairman Hull,
My name is David Bayes. I was born and raised in Homer and purchased a boat to start my own charter business at age 20.
Now, at age 32, I've served as president of both the Homer and Alaska Charter Associations. I never asked to be appointed as President of either Association, or even be on the Boards for that matter, but I was in essence "put there" as the older generation of charter fishermen and industry representatives threw their defeated hands into the air. "You are the young guys" they would say. "It's your problem now" Those guys have mostly retired now, though many of them are still sitting-on their boats; boats which were meant to someday be a considerable part of their retirement, but which have now become greatly de-valued in an era when new-entrants are uncertain about buying-in.
Each year, myself and other new-entrants into the charter fleet live under the dark cloud of further restrictions and economic uncertainty. My wife has even made me promise that I will not depend on charter fishing to support our family in the future, and that I will not purchase another boat to expand my business. The uncertainty about our future catch limits cripples our ability to thrive as a fishing family.
Charters rely-on a 100 day fishing season; if we don't run a trip between Memorial Day and Labor day, we can not make up for it later in the season. School schedules, weather patterns, and fish migrations make successful day-charters a slim possibility before May and after September. Thus, each day of the June-August season equates to 1% of our total gross income for the year. The Area 3A Wednesday closure for 2016 creates a loss of 15 days in that June-August period. Fishing in the "Halibut Capital of the World" a loss of 15 "halibut" days means that my gross income this year will likely be reduced by 15%. Add to that 3 or 4 days per month lost to weather, and I've now lost close to 25% of my potential yearly income. As most small-business owners know, we work on a pretty slim profit margin to begin with. Many of our costs are fixed, so when 25% of the gross is lost, we've lost a LARGE portion of our profits for the year.
On my 6-pack boat, I carry around 600 clients per year. These clients fly or drive into town for a guided halibut trip. They stay in local bed-and-breakfasts and eat at local restaurants. In the past, I've asked couples aboard my boat to estimate the total amount which they will spend during their trip to Alaska; vacationing, traveling, and doing a 1-day halibut charter. For out-of-state visitors, their estimate often exceeds $5000. Only about $600 of that $5000 is spent upon the actual charter, so there are incredible amounts of money being spent elsewhere throughout the town and State! If that couple caught a full limit of average-sized 3A fish, then they are putting $125 into the Alaskan economy for every 1 pound of halibut which they remove.
Though many of my clients will stay in Alaska for a week or more during their vacation, most tell me that FISHING is their reason for choosing to visit Alaska. Questioned further, they will often state that if the option to do a halibut charter was off-the-table, they would not return.
In the early 2000's, we went to Council meetings to voice our concerns with the proposed Charter IFQ program. In that era, I was told, by IFQ holders, "if you guys want more quota, you can just buy it from us!" At the time, it was an older and established halibut fisherman bullying a new entrant, who, though young, enthusiastic, and swimming in debt, happened to use a different gear type. The comment brought great laughter from all those within hearing range.
At age 20, in college, and with a new boat loan resting heavily upon my shoulders, those conversations deeply soured my view of the "Process." I've carried the memory of that conversation with me for many years, and though I swore that I would never consider it, it now, somehow, 12 years later, seems our best option for survival. We'd like create an RQE to purchase quota, so that we can continue to survive.
Always remembering that conversation, it AMAZES me that IFQ holders today resist what was, originally, their plan.
I support having a single quota entity with two quota pools. I think that a 5% annual transfer limit and a 15% cumulative limit of all commercial quota shares would be best for our business and local community. Many new fishermen enter on C class vessels, so restricting D class quota may be unnecessary, however, blocks of 1500lbs or less should be protected. Unallocated RQE IFQs could even be issued back to all IFQ shareholders proportionately. Finally, there are latent CHPs which the RQE should be able to purchase over time.
An RQE is the best option for guided sportfishing and the Alaska economy. For my clients, the size of the fish they can catch is important in making their booking decisions. The less restrictive our fishing conditions, the more happy customers we have frequenting our community. As a business owner, I cannot afford to take time every year to reassess whether I can lease more IFQs to ensure my clients have a good time. This is a great, voluntary way to use quota shares.